A draft strategic plan presented to the Schenectady City school board recently puts on paper the district's guiding principles, key data measures and goals for improving student outcomes.
The draft plan covers five pages and outlines four pillars to the district's future: student and graduate success; passionate people; partnerships; and, efficient systems and equitable resources. For each pillar, the plan lists overarching goals, data points to measure progress and strategies of achieving the goals.
The measures identify specific data points the district plans to use to keep track of how much progress they are – or aren't – making toward the stated goals. Some measures focus on student progress – the percent of students reading on grade level by third grade, four-year graduation rates, absenteeism – while others measures focus on staffing, family participation and community engagement.
The strategic plan, which the school board discussed at its regular board meeting Wednesday and will be taken up again to potentially revise and adopt, marks the first long-range strategic plan developed under the leadership of Schenectady Superintendent Larry Spring. The plan covers the next five years.
Spring said the district has only just recently stabilized enough of its struggling schools to break out of responding to short-term challenges – and state-mandated planning – and think about where the district wants to be in five years and how to get there.
“For a long time in a district such as Schenectady, strategic planning really wasn't an option,” Spring said. “We were really chasing or being chased in a cycle with the state Education Department.”
The plan encapsulates in a single document much of the vision and philosophy that has guided the district in recent years as it has launched initiatives to reorient how it approaches student behavior, absenteeism and academic struggles to be more supportive and empowering to students and less punitive. The plan explicitly adopts as goals for the next five years the commitments to serve students “regardless of race, economics and disability” and nurture “student voices” that has served as a foundation of the district in recent years.
“We serve so that all students, regardless of race, economics, and disability, graduate ready to achieve their college, career and life aspirations through equitable access to programs, resources, and high-quality instruction,” according to one of the goal's in the plan.
The plan also sets a goal to create a staff that “represents the diversity of our community” and promises to measure and increase the percentage of employees from underrepresented groups who are hired, retained and promoted. The goals also include boosting parent and family engagement, increasing district enrollment and lifting the number of people who volunteer in the schools.
The district contracted with Studer Education to hold focus groups with students, parents and staff and collect information throughout the fall and winter before developing the five-page plan. If the board signs off on the plan, the group will continue to assist with its implementation. Nearly 200 people participated in focus groups about what they want to see in the district.
“What we heard most in terms of how people want to experience the school district were equity, collaboration and learning,” Melissa Matarazzo of Studer said at the school board meeting. “(People) wanting to feel as a community member or as a family member that 'I am partner, this is a two-way street' – that was a strong theme.”
While the plan outlines specific goals and measures to track progress, specific plans and programs will be developed over time. As the board discussed the plan, board member Dharam Hitlall said he hoped officials wouldn't wait too long to change course if measures like reading proficiency don't improve soon.
“What happens if it's three years from now and third graders still aren't reading on level?” he said. “We've been claiming we need more funding, we need more funding; now we have more funding and we are still not seeing those kids at that level.”
Board member Mark Snyder, who will be leaving the board at the end of June, questioned why board members weren't more involved in the development of the plan, while others board members said they were pleased they weren't so involved that honest feedback was stifled.
Spring said the board was able to revise the plan before adopting a final version. He said it would come back before the board when board members were ready to discuss the plan again.
“We are asking you to begin to take a look at this, not as a rubber stamp,” Spring said at the meeting. “But this is what the stakeholders have said.”