Community input sought as Lawrence school district develops 5-year strategic plan

photo by: Ashley Hocking/Journal-World File Photo

In this Journal-World file photo from Jan. 29, 2018, Lawrence school district Superintendent Anthony Lewis speaks at the Lawrence school board meeting in district offices, 110 McDonald Drive. Behind him are board members Melissa Johnson and Kelly Jones.

The five-year strategic plan the Lawrence school district will develop this spring will be an inclusive community effort that will spell out specific steps for improvements and will keep people accountable, Lawrence Superintendent Anthony Lewis vows.

The strategic planning process is new to the district, said board member Shannon Kimball. While serving as board president last year, she suggested that the district develop a five-year strategic plan as a way to bring more continuity to planning and goal setting and as a way to share a vision for district improvement with the community.

Lewis, who started with the district July 1, said community involvement in the strategic plan started with his six-stop listening and learning tour during his first 100 days on the job. It continued with a survey made available this fall to students, teachers, classified staff, parents and community partners, he said. The survey asked respondents to identify district strengths, areas needing improvement, how the district could raise academic achievement and eliminate achievement gaps among students of different ethnic and income groups and to identify the district’s budget priorities.

“We had 542 students, 284 parents, 188 employees and 113 community members complete the survey,” he said.

Information gleaned from the tour and the survey will help identify priorities for the strategic plan, Lewis said. Those priorities already identified include increased academic achievement for all students, the hiring of more minority faculty and increased compensation for teachers and paraprofessionals.

The listening tour and survey were only the first two opportunities the public had to shape the strategic plan, Lewis said. More will be available as work starts in earnest on the plan in the spring semester, he said.

The Lawrence school board will be asked in January to hire a consultant to facilitate development of the plan and its public involvement process, Lewis said. The district leadership team has trimmed the list of consulting firms it is considering recommending to the board to two, he said.

“One of the things we talked about is we already have a great deal of data,” he said. “We had consultants who wanted to come in and identify needs, but we’ve already done that. We wanted to assure the public that the consultant will use the data we’ve already collected from them.”

Lewis said he expected that within days after a firm is selected, the consultant will provide a plan of how to gather a group of stakeholders to provide input on developing the plan and communicate to the public how to get involved. The district has a head start on the process because it collected the names and emails from a lot of people attending the listening tour who were interested in being a part of the plan’s development, Lewis said.

The plan will be presented to the school board in June or July for approval and will inform decisions on such things as staffing and curriculum for the 2019-2020 school year, Lewis said.

The approved strategic plan will articulate goals, provide action plans to achieve defined outcomes and a provide for regular monitoring of the effectiveness of the action steps in accomplishing their intended purposes.

“Yes we will have goals and actions steps, but what are the building practices, leadership practices and what are those organizational practices we should be doing as a district to reach those goals and how are we monitoring that?” he said. “That’s one of the things I’ve found lacking in strategic plans or individual school improvement plans. Districts have done a good job of identifying needs, have done a good job of articulating goals and maybe they’ve done a good job of identifying action steps, but what I’ve seen school districts struggle with is the full disciplined implementation of monitoring of plans.”

The community’s involvement in the strategic plan will continue through the sharing of monitored results with the public, Lewis said. That will start with the plan’s approval. Although it’s a five-year plan, the district will start implementation and monitoring progress immediately, he said.

“Going back to the community will not be just a check-the-box exercise,” he said. “We need public input on this because we want the community to be involved in the implementation of the plan as well as holding us accountable in terms of: ‘I was involved in the plan, and you said we’d be doing X, Y and Z. It’s six months down the road, how are we doing with the plan?'”

Community buy-in will help keep the district accountable for achieving its goals, Lewis said.

“This is not my plan, the board’s plan or the district’s plan,” he said. “We want members of the community to see themselves in the plan. We want to be held accountable. We want full community involvement in the development, implementation and monitoring of the plan.”

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