Case Study

West Springfield, MA (WSPS)

“We are the questions we ask. It is about time that we allow our strengths to inform our vision enabling us to dream a brighter tomorrow when all children create successful futures.” Dr. Suzanne Marotta

West Springfield, MA was founded in 1774 with 30,000 people today. The school district is mostly urban and suburban. West Springfield Public Schools (WSPS) include seven elementary schools, a middle school, and the high school. The present enrollment is approximately 4,000 students in pre K-12. There are over 500 faculty and staff.

Dr. Suzanne Marotta, the superintendent of WSPS, attended a seminar co-led by Dr. Marge Schiller and Dr. David Cooperrider in 2001. Dr. Marotta became excited at the potential for an AI approach in WSPS. She wanted to test her perspective, so she requested that others (a principal, the head of the teachers union, director of school curriculum, and teachers from several schools) attend an AI workshop to gain their insights and commitment they became known as the WS5. This group concurred with Dr. Marotta.

Client Objectives

The superintendent’s interest was to transform school culture and increase student achievement. Using strength based whole system approach would begin the shift by modeling the cultural change desired.

WSPS wanted to create a strategic plan for the future of education in their community to produce their vision:

Through sharing and celebrating our stories, The West Springfield community unites to:

Celebrate an exemplary school system, which fosters the wonder of education and inspires lifelong learning.

Create a strength based environment of excellence that supports children in reaching their full potential.

Elevate, unite and give one voice to all in the West Springfield community.

The desired outcomes for the AI Summit were: Energy that inspires:

A co-created WSPS Strategic Plan.

Initiatives, projects, and action plans that get results.

Mutual respect, open communication, and trust.

Pre Summit

At the urging of the WS5’s, different stakeholders groups were invited to six enlistment meetings to experience the possibility of using AI in WSPS. The meetings also served to further develop a strategic plan and plan for the fall AI SUMMIT.

Some members of WS5 became the Core Design Team which then expanded to further the effort. The Core Design Team partnered with the Positive Change Corps (PCC). When the Core Design Team took ownership and named the process “Celebrate the Stories: 2002 X 2 Creating a Strategic Plan for the West Springfield public schools” the commitment was evident.

In April, 2002, AI training event took place. A large group of cross functional/generational stakeholders (125 faculty, staff, grade 6-12 students, parents, and community members) was trained in AI and how to conduct AI interviews. The interview guide was as follows:

  • Think of a time when you had a really terrific experience with WSPS. Tell the story.
  • Without being modest, what do you value about yourself, your greatest strengths, and how your strengths help you to be an important member of the WSPS and the community?
  • What do you see as the core value of the WSPS?
  • If you had three wishes for WSPS, what would those wishes be?

As a result of the interviews conducted throughout spring and summer, several topics emerged. Those were: lifelong learning, role models, learning is fun, valuing everyone, and relevance of learning to real life

After theApril event, the size and scope of “Celebrate the Stories” continued to expand. Over the summer, Joanne Wisnowski, a teacher, Karen Ware, an administrator, and ErinMountain, a parent, became the “Celebrate the Stories” project managers. Outreach activities to engage the community were held in the library, parks and places like senior citizen communities and nursing homes. Local businesses were involved through their donations of financing, AV equipment, lunches, and other gifts and discounts.

SUMMIT - Celebrate the Stories

The SUMMIT was scheduled for Sept 3-4, 2002. All summer and up until the last minute the Core design team, friends, and family conducted interviews, invited participation, raised funds, and prepared for the SUMMIT. The high school gym was transformed into what looked like a political convention center. Large balloon bouquets, bright blue t-shirts on each chair, and A-frame flipcharts with the names of the table participants decorated each table. Large screen monitors projected what was being filmed and presented so all 650 participants could see and participate in what was occurring.

It was evident to faculty, staff, parents, students, administrators, and community members that this was something very different. The teachers that wanted to set up their rooms paused in appreciation of the sight and sense of welcome. The Core Design Team’s work over the summer was apparent.

Because, only two days were available, all four phases were encapsulated. The first day covered Discovery and Dream and was carried out with military precision. The second day began with opening remarks from the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education. By 3:00pm Wednesday, the Design and Destiny were completed.

The design of the WSPS SUMMIT encouraged small group interaction and large group report out. The PCC members facilitated breakouts so the Core Design Team could actively participate. The small groups were initially a maximum mix of stakeholders then became specific school communities.


Benefits to WSPS for participating in strength based whole system change effort were the following:

  • A shared positive experience
  • Strengthened networks in and across schools
  • Commitment and ownership at the school level to follow-up on projects
  • Community awareness and desire to partner
  • Conversations about hope
  • Dialogue across functions, ages, experiences, and boundaries
  • Renewed energy and commitment to the schools and to the children


Detailed planning and project management from the Design Core Team and the on site support of the PCC, allowed the over 650 participants to operate as a small community. The t-shirts were important in that they connected everyone and identified roles. Participants had blue shirts, the Core Design Team wore teal, and the PCC had red shirts. The group photo taken after the end of the SUMMIT shows the solidarity (see website).

The maximum mix at the tables provided a holographic image of the whole and created relationships across schools. Moving from max mix teams into school community planning groups was critical for ownership and implementation. It was important that stakeholders express their belief and support of what had been created and the desire to implement.

Case Studies Analysis

Conversations changed to hope and personal responsibility for making the future happen. High point stories showed positive core of strength in the schools. Initial skepticism from past disappointments shifted. There was a different feeling when participants felt leadership was committed.

There were more voices included in the strategic planning process than ever before. There were more teachers than parents and community members. SHG and WSPS worked to include parents and community members. It is difficult to have these stakeholders for a 2-4 day Summit. Multiple structures to allow participation of teachers, students, parents and community members need to be created with sufficient lead time.


There is a great need in our school systems today to re-Form. This re-Formation can occur with a strength based whole systems change approach that taps into the answers that are in the system. The re-Forming comes from each participant. It is based on hope and a mindset of abundance. The AI SUMMIT provides proof that the answer does not come from outside experts but from within what is best in their own community. It is all a question ofwholeness.