The first step to making any major change is to strike up a conversation and simply start talking about the issue. This is the theory behind Community Conversations, an initiative from the Center for Michigan whose goal is to get people talking. The latest conversation happened on Tuesday, Feb. 7 in Holt and focused on the issue of public education. The goal of the Center for Michigan’s Community Conversations is to hold 200 conversations across the state in 2012. The main focus of the discussions will be on finding the holes in public education and presenting solutions to the upcoming legislators for 2013, giving citizen recommendations on how to best help current and future students. “We want to reach 5,000 Michigan residents to find out their ideas and opinions on how to improve our K-12 education system,” said Amber Toth, the outreach coordinator for the Center for Michigan. Walt Sutterlin, a transformational and instructional coach at Holt Public Schools, served as the host for the talk on Feb. 7. He was intrigued by the idea of Community Conversations and approached the Center for Michigan on hosting a discussion. Any Michigan resident can do the same if they want to host a conversation in their local area. “I was informed about these conversations, looked at the issues guide and decided these were discussions that needed to happen,” Sutterlin said. “I wanted to gather people to have the conversation, and with this help it’s a start as long as other people can continue to have these talks. There are a lot of great thinkers out there, and we need the influx of community to fuel new ideas.” The flow of the conversation is controlled by a facilitator, and while the topics are laid out in an issue guide, the majority of the time is spent in open discussion. For the conversation in Holt, a few consistently agreed-upon themes emerged. “There was consensus around a couple ideas that might help in making students successful,” Toth said. “There was also disagreement and diversity of thoughts, and that’s something we hope to see. We know insuring student success won’t just take one solution — it’ll take multiple.” Sutterlin said he was pleased with the turnout but still felt there is room for improvement in future conversations, which is why the goal is to keep hosting them across the state to improve participation and awareness. The Center for Michigan is currently looking for hosts of Community Conversations. If you are interested in hosting one, you may contact them at (517) 708-3911 or visit their website here.