Cooper looks to better the community through conversation

Nathalie Schickendantz | Staff Writer

Jonathan Cooper wants to hear from you.

The soon to be superintendent has created a program called CommUNITY Conversation as part of his 100 day plan with the board of education. The program is co-designed to tackle problems in the Mason community with leaders and members being present. The topics discussed are generated by the Mason community who control the agenda for the conversations. Anyone in the Mason community can reach out to Cooper and host a conversation with 10-15 people that cover the topic they desire. Cooper said the main purpose is to listen and learn.

“One hope is that I would have a chance as the incoming superintendent to go all in and truly listen to our community and to hear diverse perspectives across our community, to hear what people love about Mason City Schools, what challenges they see for Mason City Schools, what opportunities they see ahead of us and what their dreams are for Mason City Schools,” Cooper said. “I am always asking questions such as, ‘if you could design Mason in a way you would like to see it, not just in the school district, but as a community, what are those dreams of yours, for your kids and our community?’”

The program is designed to address relative issues such as ensuring equity and inclusion, mental wellness and school safety. Cooper said the conversations are very informative as they communicate the negative and positive sides of things present in our community.

“Mental wellness is one of the top topics we have been discussing intentionally and practically,” Cooper said. “To support our students and build a culture that has healthy relationships for our students and staff, so it is a place they feel safe and also feel happy so it is a huge conversation that gets into Hope Squad, our collective safety plan, and how we are supporting our students or how we are not supporting them.”

Cooper plans to continue the open conversation after his 100 days of being superintendent are over. As a district leader, Cooper said listening to the city’s population helps find ways to improve current issues, which is necessary.

“A lot of superintendents do this at the beginning, and then they go on with their business, and I would like to make this an ongoing thing and build it into the fabric of my calendar so it is not just the first 100 days but with the rest of my career here at Mason,” Cooper said. “This is a good way for leaders to meet people as well as hear the topics we are working through as a district.”

Graphic compiled by Ryan D’Souza

The SWOT Analysis stands for: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats. Cooper has used this tool and changed it to SWOC to insure a well-structured system. To achieve success Cooper said we need to analyze all angles of a topic to find solutions.

“The last letter has been changed to challenges and I thought challenges gave us more, because threats represent a place where we fall, where we hit a stop and a SWOC framework helps,” Cooper said. “We can brainstorm what are the weaknesses right now, what are the opportunities as a district but we also create a community in which we can address what challenges are ahead of us that we should be proactively addressing.”

Cooper said the response to the program has been inspiring as well as intellectual. 

“I think there is a lot of pride in Mason and they want their voices to be heard and they want to be a part of the solution,” Cooper said. “They do not want to be on the sideline–they really want to be engaged.”

Cooper said the conversations avoid artificiality making it a very honest, successful session.

“I say it is very real; it is not like we are sitting there just talking about Mason being perfect, it is a recognition that there is no perfect place and there are a lot of great things going on in Mason,” Cooper said.  “It shows that there is so much opportunity for growth and we have great people wanting to do that well.”

Cooper extends an invite to community members to help make Mason the best it can be.

“Through the conversations we can structure the community, but also come to talk and see that I am a real guy who loves education, who loves students and who loves this community,” Cooper said. “If there is something on your mind or in you heart that you think we need to do better I want to know it and I want to work together towards a solution.”

Photo by Nathalie Schickendantz.