Laurie Kimbrel Tamalpais | The Importance of Strategic Planning for School Districts

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If we stand still in a rapidly changing world, we will be quickly passed by.  As educators, we must be aware that our role is to prepare our students to enter an increasingly competitive job market and college application process.  If we accept the status quo when other schools and districts are making improvements, our students will be denied the highest quality education possible.

Continuous improvement is imperative and must be driven by a robust statement of mission and corresponding strategic plan.  A strategic plan charts a course for a specific future by setting goals designed to move the organization towards its aspirational mission.

In comparing district leadership and student achievement, Waters and Marzano (2006) identified five specific district leadership responsibilities that positively correlated with student achievement:

  • Establishing a collaborative process to set goals;
  • Establishing “non-negotiable goals” (that is, goals all staff must act upon once set by the board) in at least two areas: student achievement and classroom instruction;
  • Having the board align with and support district goals;
  • Monitoring goals for achievement and instruction;
  • Using resources to support achievement and instruction goals.

Ultimately, the responsibility of strategic planning belongs to the School Board.  According to the National School Board Association, One of the primary responsibilities of a school board is to set direction for a district. Boards should work with their communities to set a direction for the district through the creation of a mission statement and then development of specific goals intended to move the organization closer to realization of that mission.

The first step in the strategic planning process is usually to create a student focused mission statement.  This statement should reflect the values of the community and be focused on the outcomes expected for students rather than the actions or behaviors of adults such as teachers, administrators or parents.  The mission tells us what a graduate of our schools should know and be able to do.  Mission statements are aspirational rather than a statement of what exists today.

Because public schools should be a reflection of the communities in which they exist, there should be a process of input from parents, students, staff and community members.  Forums and surveys are typical data gathering processes.  Before a mission is set, there must also be a thorough examination of data for all aspects of district functioning including student achievement, discipline, climate, district financial records and human resources records.  It is the responsibility of the school board to create and approve the mission, but this should only be done after careful consideration of input and data.

After a mission has been created and approved, the Board of Education typically establishespriorities, which are the major areas that must be addressed in order to make progress toward the mission.  All areas of school district operations should be at least considered when creating a comprehensive plan.  Of course no plan is complete without priorities in the areas of curriculum and instruction but other areas of consideration may be finance, human resources, student services (counseling, discipline, wellness), community engagement, public relations/communications.

Once priority areas are determined, strategic goals should be set in each area.  Again, each step of the process should involve opportunities for input and collaboration with staff, parents, students and community.  Each strategic goal should clearly lead the organization towards achievement of the mission.  School boards should closely monitor progress towards goals and amend the plan over time so that it stays relevant.  Once a strategic plan is in place it must be updated regularly.  Goals that are accomplished should be celebrated and new goals that lead to the mission should be added.

Overall, a strategic plan provides direction for staff.  The role of administrators is to implement the strategic plan rather than to strike out on their own about what they independently believe to be the best course of action.  In the simplest terms, the School Board determines the “what” and the staff uses their expertise to determine the “how”.   Neither the staff or board can work in isolation, they are a team and they need each other in order to truly engage in continuous improvement on behalf of students.

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