This QR code will be distributed throughout Sitka — even on pizza boxes, says Superintendent Mary Wegner.

The Sitka School District is going to crowdsource its strategic planning in 2020.

The district has joined with about 30 other schools nationwide who use an online tool to gather ideas from the community, and then rank them by popularity.

In Sitka, the project has been dubbed “Leave Your Print.”

The visual branding was designed by student Cora Dow — and plays off of paw prints in the snow left by the high school mascot, the Wolves, as well as the prints of people and other creatures on the move in Sitka.

District superintendent Mary Wegner recently told the Sitka Chamber of Commerce that it’s about inclusivity.

“Basically, it’s a cohort of school districts who really want to hear multiple voices in designing the strategic plan for the school district.”

The cohort is an organization called “Innovate K12,” which got its start eight years ago in the Minnetonka, Minnesota school system. Wegner and team comprised of a school board member, two administrators, and a parent traveled to Minnesota for a training, then returned to develop and launch the program in Sitka. And so “Leave Your Print” was born. 

The next objective is to direct people to the Leave Your Print site. School Board member Paul Rioux said that a flyer with a large paw print and a  QR code would be distributed as widely as possible.

The “Leave Your Print” input page. As of January 9, the site had collected 55 ideas, 533 likes, 21 comments, and 237 views.

“The paw is very much the symbol. And these are going to be all over town. We’ve engaged teenagers, given them a list of places to put them up: Laundromats, public places, things like that,” said Rioux.

The QR code — those digital squares that you can point a smartphone camera at, and automatically open up a link — will even be stuck on pizza delivery boxes in Sitka. Once on the “Leave Your Print” page, you’ll be asked to create a login — but it doesn’t have to be your real name. It just gives the district a chance to communicate if your ideas get traction. People who don’t have a computer or phone can contribute thoughts at any terminal in the Sitka Public Library, or at an iPad in the district’s administrative offices. And yes — you can just fill out a paper form.

Getting the word out is important, since the project is only gathering ideas for school improvement through February 2. The website has been live less than a week and already has 55 submissions from 289 visitors. Rioux told the chamber that ideas so far ranged from creating a class in local government at the high school, to a one-stop student support center that provided everything from homework help to meals and clothing.

He said all positive ideas were welcome.

“Somebody was talking about they need a water fountain in a certain area of a building because students have to walk too far — whatever the case is,” said Rioux. “Things that are really simple. Maybe lighting. Those easy ideas. And then there might be ideas that are more involved, where we’re getting ideas that might be years-long processes, like replacing a building, a playground, or moving classes from one building to another, grades from one building to another — something that would be a really big idea and take a lot of infrastructure and planning. Hopefully we get a span of ideas where you can build some momentum. These are positive things that we can do relatively easily at low cost and get them out of the way, and we can build that momentum of success.”

Crowdsourcing also will play a role in evaluating the ideas. After the site closes to new ideas, there will be a week for users to read them all, like and comment. Then from February 10 to the 23rd, voting opens — with a twist called “pairwise” voting. Users see two ideas side-by-side, and are asked which they prefer. 

“So in a short space of three minutes you can make 20, 30, or 40 choices about which idea — and it helps the program kind of bubble up the top ideas,” said Kari Sagel, one of the district staff who attended the Innovate K12 training in Minnesota, rolling out the “Leave Your Print” project on KCAW’s Morning Interview.

First-term school board member Paul Rioux explains the value of crowdsourcing as a strategic planning tool. “The smartest person in the room, is the room,” he told the Sitka Chamber of Commerce. District superintendent Mary Wegner (at right) says the board plans to crowdsource ideas every year. (KCAW photo/ Robert Woolsey)

Board member Paul Rioux told the Sitka chamber that pairwise voting made sense to him on the premise that “the smartest person in the room, is the room.”

Serving his first term on the Sitka School Board, this is the part of crowdsourcing that excites him.

“The more people you ask, the closer you’re going to get to that design center — that human-centered design part. I think that that’s the wisdom behind that element of it. I’m hoping we’re going to get some good results,” he said.

Superintendent Wegner said that the goal would be to refine one or two ideas and implement them — if possible. The district is jumping into crowdsourcing a bit late in the year, and plans to begin “Leave Your Print” next school year in the fall. She told the Sitka chamber that this was not a one-off experiment in strategic planning, which the district would evaluate it in five years. “The school board wants to do this every year,” she said.