District takes strategic steps toward a plan

by Jim Boyle
The Elk River Area School District jump started its strategic planning efforts with a series of marathon sessions this past week to build on the work of three community cafes this past spring.
The results of the sessions were presented by Super-intendent Mark Bezek, who noted the district’s current strategic plan is a half-dozen years old and in need of a tune up.
“It served us well and got us to where we are today,” Bezek stated. “But the world is a different place.”
The last plan was assembled six years ago primarily by a team of school board members and administrators.
“Most of our concerns were internal with the organization, and we had no strategic plan in place,” Bezek said.
Most concerns nowadays are external, ranging from the economy and competition to changing technology and changing demographics.
The next strategic plan will be the product of many — from school officials to members of the community. Nearly 30 sat in on the recent marathon sessions set aside to determine core values and strategic objectives.
They were led by Steve Baroni of Transformational Systems Ltd. The sessions were held Oct. 13–15, with each session starting at 8 a.m. The first went until 10 p.m., the second went until 7 p.m. and the last session on a Saturday cut out at 3:30 p.m.
Members of the group included parents, teachers and administrators, as well as people from the faith community and the business community. The group also included three students, whose participation was appreciated and made an impact. They took part in the debate and word-smithing of the values, objectives and strategies.
“You can see our system worked for them,” said school board member Jolene Jorgensen. “Now we have to make sure it works for everybody.”
The next major step will occur Nov. 15, 16 and 17 when a measurement team of about 20 people examines the findings to date and an action team of about 20 people puts fingerprints on the plan to decide how things can be accomplished before turning it back over to the core group.
By the time something is ready for the Elk River Area School Board to act upon, 70-plus people will have touched it, not to mention those who took part in this past spring’s community cafes and those who provided feedback throughout this process.
Hundreds of thoughts and ideas were synthesized at cafes across the school district, which Baroni combed over before leading the recent sessions.
Members of the core planning team agree the No. 1 threat standing in the way of success is resistance to change.
Adaptations and new programs will be considered if:
•it’s consistent with the district’s core values and contribute to its mission.
•they are accompanied by the alignment or reduction of current practice.
In other words:
“We’ve always done it this way,” will not be an acceptable answer in removing the merit of new ideas.
And when new programs are started, current practices will have to be aligned or removed.
The school district’s current mission statement was created about three years ago with the help of Baroni and his firm. That will not change. It reads:
“To educate, inspire and empower our diverse learners to shape their futures, to accomplish their dreams and contribute positively to our local and global communities.”
The mission statement, however, will be bolstered by the work that is done this school year. The core planning team developed a list of core values on which to base the next strategic plan. The group came up with the following:
We believe that:
•all people have value;
•valuing and respecting differences strengthens the individual and community;
•people thrive when they feel connected, supported and affirmed;
•everyone can learn;
•hope inspires and empowers;
•lifelong learning is essential for personal growth;
•change is an opportunity for growth.
Bezek said it seems like so few words considering all the work that went into the effort.
“Every word and punctuation mark was debated,” Bezek said. “One person could hold up the whole show if they wanted, and sometimes they did.”
In much the same fashion, the team also established strategic objectives. They state:
•Each learner will choose to continually engage in experiences that benefit community.
•Each learner will intentionally choose to acquire and apply knowledge and skills consistent with their goals and passions.
•Each learner will articulate their dreams and create and carry out plans to achieve those dreams.
Four strategies have been developed to help get the district where it’s headed. They are:
•We will continually identify, develop and empower current and future leaders to carry out our mission.
•We will refine educational delivery services to meet the needs of present and future learners so they achieve our mission and strategic objectives.
•We will do whatever is necessary to create and sustain a culture in which all members of our community understand, support and contribute to our mission and strategic objectives.
•We will collaboratively engage all resources of our community necessary to achieve our mission and strategic objectives in ways that are mutually beneficial.
Between now and the middle of November, the work of the core team will be shared with groups in the schools and out in the community. Feedback on what has been done so far is being sought.