School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark presented a summary of the school district’s strategic planning process to date and recommendations for going forward at a meeting Tuesday, Feb. 3, following up on questions that arose about the process before last November’s election.
In a memo to the committee, Mark suggested the process resume in March, include a community survey and community forums, involve the ad hoc committee more, and present the plan for a first official read in September.
The School Committee started work on drafting a new strategic plan in 2013, setting as its goal that the EG School District would be among the top 100 districts in the country by 2018.
An ad hoc committee was assembled – with members from the School Committee, the school district, the Town Council and the community – and it met three times in 2013, drafting what’s known as a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis.
The School Committee met to work on the plan early in 2014 but that work got put on hold last June. According to a memo on the process written by Mark, the pause came about “due to multiple competing priorities in the summer and fall of 2014.”
By fall, candidates for School Committee were taking up the issue of the strategic plan as a campaign issue, in particular Yan Sun, who went on to be the top vote-getter in the election. And ad hoc committee member Kristen Lehoullier expressed her frustration with the stalled process in a letter to the School Committee in October, noting that the ad hoc committee had not met in a year and had not taken part in the process as extensively as had initially been laid out.
Mark’s recommendations are to:
- Shift the timeframe: create “Vision 2020”: Instead of a 2013-18 plan, it would be a 2015-20 plan.
- Implement aggressive timeline for completion: Approve the plan by September 2015.
- Reconstitute and reconvene the ad hoc committee: At least three new appointments would need to be made, two from the Town Council (previous members are no longer on the council) and one from the community (David Osborne was a parent member but he now sits on the School Committee). In addition, current members would be asked if they would like to remain on the panel.
- Define overarching strategic priorities for the district: While there have been some strategies outlined for becoming a top-100 district, those strategies have not been connected to a “short list of overarching strategic priorities, each with a sound rationale attached to it,” as Mark wrote in her memo.
- Integrate building-level strategic planning work into the overall plan: “The recommendation is to gather from principals any documents, survey results, insights, etc. that have been gathered in the last couple of years and incorporate” them.
- Elevate the role of stakeholder participation: In other words, involve the community more, through a survey, public forums and public comment.
School Committee members Deidre Gifford and Mary Ellen Winters both commented that the timeline was aggressive, especially in light of the ongoing budget process.
“To me, it looks pretty aggressive. We have to have a number to the town in two meetings,” said Winters, referring to the budget number the School Committee must present to the town by March 15. “To start something like this – more meetings, with the start time, kindergarten and calendar committees … “
Currently, the School Committee has ad hoc committees exploring later school start times for middle and high school students, full-day kindergarten, and the possible changes to the school calendar. Forums on start times and the calendar were both cancelled this week because of the snow.
“I wanted to see us at least jumpstarting the process in March, even if we just finalize the appointments to the ad hoc committee,” said Mark. “I think there is some wiggle room in the time frame. I know it’s aggressive but we need to bring this to conclusion and we need to do it well.”
Gifford also noted the School Committee’s role was different under Mark’s proposal than it was under the process initiated in 2013.
“It sounds like you’re proposing a change in the format,” she said, “that this plan would be written more by the ad hoc committee.”
Mark said while the ad hoc committee would do a lot of the work, the administration and some School Committee members would be responsible for writing up the strategic plan.
Mark’s memo was on for discussion only; members decided to add it to the agenda for the next meeting (Feb. 10) for continued discussion.
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