Cooper seeks community input on district’s future

Taylor Murray | The Chronicle

(Center) Mason City Schools Public Information Officer, Tracey Carson and Mason City Schools Superintendent, Jonathan Cooper talk with Mason community members at Warped
Wing Brewery.

Coffee and communication is fueling improvement throughout the district.

On November 28, 2022, Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Cooper hosted the first “Coffee with Dr. Cooper” session, where Cooper met with members of the community at a local coffee shop. These events have occurred monthly since then, and are an open opportunity for parents to come and ask questions, voice concerns, or just get to know Cooper. Starting in January, Cooper added an evening event titled “Brews With The Sup’T”, which is similar to the morning coffee meetings except they take place at a local brewery in the evening, to make the events more accessible to working parents.

Cooper said that making people feel heard is very important to him. Even though actively listening to and acting on parents’ ideas can be time-consuming, it helps him feel more authentic and trustworthy as a figure of leadership.

“What started this process was a fundamental belief that the community should be involved in the direction of what we do,” Cooper said. “I believe in the power of people. It’s not a perfect model – it takes a bit longer and sometimes gets people frustrated because it takes a minute, but it usually serves us well.”

These open sessions usually result in Cooper and other school board members settling on a couple themes or ideas to focus on. They then formulate a plan to implement these ideas in schools. Cooper said that, from the start, there was a focus on creating a culture on inclusivity and respect at the schools.

“When I went out there and listened, I heard people talk about the importance of relationships [and how] relationships are the bedrock to learning,” Cooper said. “Over time, that [feedback] [helped] create our culture guide and three big rocks, which then created a focus for us as a district.”

Hosting these meetings and hearing directly from the parents is making it easier for Cooper to understand the needs of the community and work to address them. He said that being commanding and controlling is not his preferred leadership style, and listening to the comments of people in the district helps him to be more accommodating.

“It’s a lot more authentic [when change] is something that came from our community,” Cooper said. “[Not having that system is] when people get frustrated, because they don’t feel heard.”

Although Cooper believes these talks are creating more accountability for the school district, he said there is still a long way to go in terms of building a community that is intertwined with the schools.

“It’s not that our culture is perfect, because we have a long way to grow,” Cooper said. “But if we can continue to build that kind of spirit, it’s more of an invitation to tell us what we can be doing better.”

A current focus for Cooper and the administration is to ensure that every student has the ability to participate in a class, club, or activity that they are passionate about. Cooper said that providing them with a range of experiences will make their time finding what they love outside of high school that much easier.

“We need more authentic real life experiences for students so that if they decide to go to college, they know why,” Cooper said. “[We want students to] have the experience to know where they want to go.

So far, there have been many instances of action in the district due to the Comet Coffee Talks, such as putting speed bumps into place in the Mason Early Childhood Center parking lot, organizing a team of individuals to make school transitions easier on the kids, and meeting with an architect to put a gate in place at the Mason Middle School. 

“If we can get people to buy into this [new system], it’s good, because then you can get people to actually believe in it,” Cooper said. “And when they believe in something, it’s because they actually had a voice in it and they can see where their idea shows up.”

Cooper has many hopes for the future of this program and said he is ready and willing to continue meeting with more and more people in the community. So far these monthly talks have inspired lots of positive change in the district and an open relationship with the families of students at Mason.

“I hope that the chats continue to be a rhythm of the work that we do here,” Cooper said. “I hope what that creates is a culture of trust, open dialogue and ongoing feedback so that we always have a good pulse of what’s going on in the community and we move forward with alignment with expectations out there.”

Photo by Taylor Murray