When it comes to school districts and strategic plans, the traditional mode of operation has been a simple and uninspired process: create a thick document of easy to obtain or already-in-the-works goals, pass it through a board of education, and let it sit in a binder, collecting dust, for the next five years. That's why, Harbor Springs superintendent Mark Tompkins said folks should come to a community meeting on Wednesday, October 9, to learn about the new goal and action plans process this district recently finished.
"It's unlike anything that has been done before, and it created a one page document to guide everything this district does in the next five years. It's incredibly exciting. We started this process in December 2012, and just presented it to the Board of Education during a retreat on Monday (September 30). I've never seen a strategic plan work, but I believe in this one. It was one of the most powerful processes I've ever experienced," he said in an interview Tuesday morning.
The plan was created-- at no cost to the district-- under the guidance of Jeff Diedrich, the Director of Michigan Integrated Technology Supports, part of the Michigan Department of Education. Diedrich used a new and innovative technique, "Structured Dialogic Process," to capture information from a 39-member community cross section made up of parents, general community members, teachers, administrators, students, and alumni. From that information gathering-- which Tompkins referred to as a "hyper-democratic process"-- a set of highly targeted goals and action plans were developed.
"Jeff (Diedrich) came to Harbor Springs seven times, to facilitate three different stages of this process. When we were struggling a bit in the final stage, using the community input and research to develop our one goal and seven action plans, Jeff called up Brad Rose. He is based in Boston and is considered one of the gurus for accountability plans and how to establish measurements/set-up timelines with achievable expectations," Tompkins explained.
He stressed the level of expertise that was lended to the district, free of charge, provided an opportunity to build an authentic and meaningful plan-- something that will also now serve as a model throughout the state and country.
"We agreed to serve as a lighthouse district," he noted of the process. "That's why we have taken so long to get to this point. It's the first time a process like this has ever been done with a school district."
The overarching goal of the strategic plan is to "create an 'extraordinary' model of education for Harbor Springs Public Schools."
In order to do this, seven action plans were developed, including: to implement the Common Core curriculum, state standards, and depth of knowledge; "Learn Local"; develop project-based learning and capstone experiences; improve opportunities for students with diverse learning needs; support teachers as they utilize technology to enrich instruction; revise health, safety, and security plans; enhance communication systems for all district stakeholders.
"We have already established outcomes we want to see for each action plan, as well accountability measures and investments we need to make," Tompkins said.
Although the plan still will likely be tweaked after community input, the bones are strong and the board's enthusiasm for what Tompkins presented during their retreat indicates the strategic plan will likely be officially passed within the next few months.
The only thing left to be created, once the plan is approved, is a timeline for each of the seven action items. Tompkins said the board will wait until the first round of budget numbers come in sometime in January to make decisions.
"We know we're right on the edge of being back in the black and not having any more numbers in red on our books. Pam (Gibson, the district's financial manager) is conservative, and so for most of the budget-related investments, we'll wait."
He added the board is already looking at investing in several things on the action plan list without waiting until January.
"We are very interested in having a technology coach come on board to support our teachers and help develop ways for creative, deeper depth of knowledge with the technology our students and staff now have as learning tools. Our community made an incredible investment (when passing the technology bond) and we need to be responsible in maximizing how technology is used, as well as making sure it is used in an appropriate way."
The district's technology director's focus can then shift to management, trouble shooting, care, and oversight of this investment, Tompkins noted.
"There are federal Title II dollars that we will eventually be able to capture for this role," he added.
Teacher evaluation tools and different student assessment tools will also be looked at in the near future, and Tompkins said the Board of Education is very interested in continuing to "grow the pot" of the curriculum budget, which was originally established with some "Obama money" the district received several years ago. The curriculum committees are able to make presentations requesting materials needed to support depth of knowledge learning, and Tompkins said the importance of providing teachers with what they need to build creativity and critical thinking skills, as well as match Common Core standards, will increase in coming years.
"We want kids to have meaningful experiences. We want our students to leave this district with 21st century thinking, and to do that, we need to have a 21st century curriculum," he said.
And Tompkins said he's sure the end result of the district's strategic planning process will make this happen.
"It represents a paradigm shift. We're proud of this work, and we're excited to share it with our community. The goal and action plans truly represent our greatest weaknesses and provide us with a roadmap to an extraordinary education for all students. In this first stage of presenting to the community, we'll focus a lot on the process (a 60 page document shows every bit of the dialogue, as well as all the research and details for each plan). Understanding of all the action plans, and how we'll get there, will be an emerging thing, but we are committed to keeping all seven in the spotlight for years to come."
The community information meeting about the district's strategic plan is set for Wednesday, October 9 at 7 p.m. in the middle school's large group instruction room.