Leadership Oshkosh experience puts community in new perspective

By David Gundlach, Deputy Superintendent, Oshkosh Area School District
This column first appeared in the Oshkosh Northwestern on May 27, 2012

At the start of my second year with the Oshkosh Area School District I was afforded the honor of representing our district by participating in Leadership Oshkosh. Leadership Oshkosh is a program run by the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce that works to bring leaders from throughout Oshkosh together to learn about our community, our challenges, and the positive developments that are occurring. I was joined by 37 successful and talented people from all parts of our community, most of which I had never met.

We started our journey by getting to know each other’s strengths and which organizations we represented. We conducted a detailed SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of Oshkosh to better inform and frame our future time together.

As part of our class we also had the opportunity to participate as adjunct board members on several nonprofit boards throughout Oshkosh.

After our initial time together we continued to meet one day per month to learn from a variety of community organizations. We started by learning about the rich history of Oshkosh and then proceeded to learn from leaders in government, arts and culture, economic development, education, health and human services, criminal justice, and communications.

Each month we drew closer to the end of our experience and you could sense that the class had formed strong relationships not only with each other but in networking with leaders from around Oshkosh. We thoroughly enjoyed learning more about various aspects of our community and the sense of pride in Oshkosh grew with each experience.

During our last session together we participated in an activity where each participant was asked what they took away from the experience and what will they do to make Oshkosh stronger in the future. There were several common themes that resonated from class members as they reported out.

First, everyone was impressed with the high quality of our civic organizations and those that led them. Many mentioned that they had several misperceptions that were proven incorrect as they learned first hand about our government, our schools, our healthcare institutions, and our business development community. Second, a sense of civic pride developed based upon the efforts to improve our waterfront, downtown hotel, convention center, business development, technical college, university, and school system.

The third theme mentioned involved the strong connection necessary between our private sector and our public sector organizations rooted in a strong realization that the common good must be cultivated and nurtured in Oshkosh for our community to prosper.

When it came to describing what we would do to make a stronger Oshkosh, the response was identical among all the participants. Each person indicated a strong desire to stay involved in the community and do what they can to make a positive contribution. Many had already taken steps to obtain more permanent positions on the various community boards that they were serving on.

I share the perspectives identified by my Leadership Oshkosh classmates and truly believe that common ground does exist in today’s polarized world even though we are often told it does not. If we take the time to learn about our community and nurture a sense of common good, it will undoubtedly lead to a deep sense of trust, willingness to really listen, and strong sense of civility.

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