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Archive for Sunday, October 17, 1999

SCHOOL DISTRICT ENDEAVORS TO CREATE A STRATEGIC PLAN

October 17, 1999

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School board members in Lawrence are inviting the community to an open forum Nov. 1 to talk about the district's unfolding strategic plan.

The Lawrence school district's goal-setting conference in January didn't replace Kansas basketball as the month's most entertaining activity.

And when a consultant's 140-page audit of school district policies and practices arrived in June, it didn't threaten "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" on best-seller lists.

But the conference and audit reports are catalysts for development of a new strategic plan for educating the district's 10,000 students. That plan delves into restructuring the central administration, including the hiring of more staff, and a complete rewriting of district policies. It touches on curriculum, technology, facilities, budgeting and accountability.

"When I came, the district didn't seem to have a focus," Supt. Kathleen Williams said Friday. "(A strategic plan) is a basic way for any entity, public or private, to achieve its mission."

But she doesn't want the strategic plan created in a vacuum.

"The board, Cabinet and I do not own the plan," Williams said. "It's a school district plan."

In that vein, the school board scheduled a public forum for 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 1 at Lawrence High School to focus on strategic planning. There will be a presentation before opening up the session for questions and comments.

Mary Loveland, who has been a Lawrence school board member for 12 years, said the idea was to develop a plan that required decisions to be made in the context of improving curriculum and instruction.

"If you think of it as a map, all the roads lead to 'how is this relevant to the instruction of children?,'" she said.

Working toward goals

It has been challenging to spark interest in results of the January futures conference, in which 100 community members met for three days to reach common ground on six goals for the public school system.

In brief, the goals are to make schools student-centered, hire high-quality staff, make schools comprehensive centers for the community, expand technology, re-evaluate and improve district resources, and involve residents in district affairs.

The $40,000 audit by professional consultants generated more than 900 specific recommendations.

Loveland said both endeavors provided potent tools for hammering out a coherent blueprint for the future.

"It's the synthesis of a vision by 100 citizens in the community, but it also represents the findings of a group of experts that are highly trained in the auditing of school systems," she said.

The school board permitted Williams to get the process rolling by contracting with Kansas Association of School Boards to rewrite the board's policy manual. It will take until next year to prepare a precise, legal and useful policy book.

The formidable process is worthwhile, according to the audit report, because an updated policy guide minimizes opportunities for special-interest groups to apply political pressure that forces the school board into capricious decisions.

Williams also was given authority by the school board to restructure the central administration. Auditors concluded the superintendent had too big of a work load. For example, Williams last year personally evaluated 32 staff members, including all building principals. Auditors say she could reasonably handle a dozen evaluations in addition to her other duties.

"Asking one person to run an entire school system and 25 schools ... was found to be an unrealistic expectation," Loveland said.

Shuffling the deck

Williams has shuffled the administrative deck, altered job titles and duties, and hired new staff.

The new flow chart includes two executive directors of curriculum and instruction. One, Doug Eicher, focuses on special educational services such as health, counseling, psychology, social work, Indian affairs and gifted programs.

Williams plans to hire a new director of student services to concentrate on special education programs for Eicher.

A second executive director of curriculum and instruction -- Eicher's peer -- will be hired to take charge of staff development.

The two executive directors will divide oversight responsibility for 25 school buildings in the district.

Lawrence school board member Scott Morgan said he welcomed creation of a strategic plan. But he wasn't convinced now was the time to add two new administrators at an annual cost of about $150,000.

The district faces cost overruns on several building projects, has had difficulty selling real estate it has on the market and must consider Gov. Bill Graves' call for a 1 percent rollback in state budget.

"There may be legitimate arguments for these extra people," said Morgan, who was the only board member to vote against the staff expansion. "If you are facing a budget crunch ... over the next couple years, it's hard to get rid of people once you have them."

Board member Sue Morgan, who is no relation to Scott Morgan, said hiring the two extra staff members would demonstrate the school board's willingness to provide the financial backbone to demands for greater accountability from school principals.

"You don't want to make things top-heavy, but in this case we want to provide support for where we want to go," she said.

-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is tcarpenter@ljworld.com.



DISTRICT GOALS

The Lawrence school district brought 100 community members together in January to chart a course for the future of public education.

Consensus goals are to:

  • Create student-centered environments that allow all students to learn academic and life skills to reach their potential.
  • Recruit, develop and retain only high quality staff to educate and support all students and demonstrate the staff's value to the community.
  • Make schools comprehensive centers of education accessible to the community.
  • Expand and integrate technology into all phases of the educational process.
  • Evaluate existing resources and identify additional educational support.
  • Implement effective collaboration and teamwork and continuously involve the community in setting, refining and implementing goals and initiatives.


DISTRICT AUDIT

A curriculum audit of the Lawrence school district finished in June produced recommendations aimed at dealing with weaknesses in the delivery of educational opportunities.

They pertain to:

  • Improvement of board policies and planning to strengthen local control of the curriculum.
  • Expanding achievement expectations for the at-risk and gifted and talented students.
  • Ensuring equality of program access for all students, especially in the areas of technology.
  • Improving curriculum monitoring practices.
  • Expanding the pupil assessment system.
  • Focusing staff development to support school system priorities.
  • Creating a long-range facilities plan.
  • Linking budgetary practices more closely to program priorities to permit the board and administration to engage in cost-benefit analysis.

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