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Guest Commentary / Marysville School District


Tapping into the community's wisdom

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By Jim Strickland
Published:
In his bestselling book, "The Wisdom of Crowds," business columnist James Surowiecki explores the simple but powerful truth that "under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them. Groups do not need to be dominated by exceptionally intelligent people in order to be smart." If you're like me, this insight takes an enormous weight off of my shoulders -- I don't have to know it all, nor do I need to find any single person or group who does.
The older I get, the more I am reminded of just how limited my own knowledge and experience really is and how much I need the perspectives of others to make truly wise decisions. This was brought home to me in a powerful way as I participated in the interview process for Marysville School District's new superintendent.
The selection process was a model of inclusion and collaboration from start to finish. The school board invited a wide range of community stakeholders to participate, and opened meetings to the public as well. In the first session we heard candidates answer a thoughtful array of well-crafted questions and were able to compare their responses in key areas. This was followed over the next three days by a series of very informal conversations with each of the finalists where we were able to ask our own questions and get to know the candidates better as people. And to ensure maximum participation, these sessions were held at different times throughout the day to accommodate our various work schedules.
Of course I came in with my own issues I wanted to hear candidates address, but I was continuously amazed at the quality of questions posed by other community members, many of which had never even crossed my mind. I left each session with a much broader and balanced understanding of the needs of our community, as well as how each candidate would address them if selected.
I must admit it was a grueling process -- 8:00 to 4:30 on Saturday and additional meetings over the next three days -- but I can't imagine our community being satisfied if it had been handled any other way. The end result was not only what I believe to be an excellent decision in the selection of Dr. Becky Berg as our next superintendent, but also an experience of collaborative decision-making that gives me great hope for the future of our schools and our community.
Whenever I had a difficult decision to make growing up, my father always gave me this advice: gather all the information you need to make the best decision possible, and then after you make your decision, you make it the right decision. I want to thank the Marysville School Board for providing the forum for tapping into the wisdom of our community, and I do indeed believe that the right decision was made. Now I want to invite you to join me in doing whatever we need to do to make it the right decision.

Jim Strickland is a teacher at Marysville Pilchuck High School.

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