Commentary

Tom Forcella: Schools seek 'win-win' when facing tough decisions

Raleigh News & ObserverJanuary 31, 2014 

OK, I will admit it. One of my most enjoyable hobbies in recent years is playing fantasy football.

My sons formed a league and invited me to join. Sometimes I wonder if they enjoy the camaraderie – or if they are just seeking an easy victory. Either way, I look forward to the competition of selecting my team and trying to make the right decisions to ensure that I win – and my sons lose.

As we all know, in sports, there can only be one winner, and I want it to be me.

While this works in games, it is not the best approach for making decisions regarding our families or our community. Normally, as a parent, I have to consider what is best for my entire family when I’m making choices and decisions – not just what benefits me the most. This requires compromise and sometimes sacrifices. In our family, we don’t want winners and losers. We look for the win-win – that which best benefits our family as a whole.

We need to adopt this same win-win attitude when we are struggling with the tough choices and decisions that are facing our school district. We have a diverse organization of 20 schools and more than 12,000 students. When decisions are made by the administration or the Board of Education, the top consideration always has to be the good of the entire student body.

As parents, it is only natural to want the very best for your child, your classroom or your school, but it should never come at the expense of what’s best for another parent’s child, classroom or school. Advocating for the best interests of one group at the expense of another is neither collaborative nor beneficial. We do not want winners and losers. In the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, we want everyone to be successful.

Finding the win-win can be challenging and, just like in parenting, it involves making choices and decisions that involve compromise and, occasionally, sacrifice for the greater good. We have two issues currently facing our district where taking this broader approach will be essential.

Overcrowding

First, we have a school, Glenwood Elementary, that is overcrowded. It has about 90 students more than its designed capacity. While mobile classrooms provide a tolerable temporary solution, a more permanent remedy is sought. Glenwood Elementary also houses our Mandarin Dual Language program.

While some may look at this as strictly a Glenwood Elementary matter, it is truly a great example of an issue that affects our entire school community. All of our elementary schools could potentially be involved in the solution.

We recently held our first ever "Focused Dialogue" in an effort to bring the community together in a collaborative format to discuss potential solutions for Glenwood.

Approximately 115 people showed up for this wonderful conversation. The feedback generated from the meeting was inclusive of voices that might not otherwise be heard, and the collaboration resulted in very helpful feedback.

Budget gap

Another issue that will require a broader community perspective is our upcoming 2014-15 budget. We will begin the process with a $2.2 million funding gap. In recent years, we have been able to bridge any gaps with our once-healthy fund balance. Cuts, especially to the schools, have been kept to a minimum. However, the fund balance has been reduced to the point where we cannot count on it this year. As a result, our district is going to have to make a lot of tough choices and decisions.

In both these cases, it is easy to focus only on the decisions that will have the greatest benefit for your child, your classroom or your school. But we must remember, by doing that, we risk having a school district comprised of winners and losers. We are a wonderful community of caring individuals who all want the best for all our students, classrooms and schools. We must all work together to try to make the right choices and decisions that will result in a community full of winners.

Tom Forcella is the superintendent of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

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