Road map to District 728 future unveiled at special board meeting

by Jim Boyle

The results of a strategic planning task force are in, and it’s hard to tell who is more excited about them — the task force members numbering more than 70 or the District 728 administration and School Board, charged with finalizing the plan and putting it into play.

Members of the core planning team as well as action team and measurement team members unveiled their work in a two-hour presentation at Rogers High School Monday night.

Members of the Strategic Planning Task Force that turned out for Monday’s meeting to present their results to the Elk River Area School Board. The full group numbered more than 70 and included some board members.

They delivered the details of the report with passion and conviction.

The work started last spring with three community cafes, which were followed by a three-day retreat to develop the district’s core values by the core planning team. These results were forwarded by the core planning team to both the action team and the measurement team, so they could be painstakingly poured over before the core planning team could mold them into their final form for the May 7 meeting.

“It was an amazing experience,” said Curt Hinkle, a youth minister and director of Young Life, as well as a member of the core planning team. “I have never experienced anything like this in my life.

“I have been in a number of districts where the words strategic plan were not even on the radar.”

The core planning team has developed 35 results from four strategies. This list has been narrowed to nine and recommended to the District 728 administration.

Administrators will mull it over and come to the Elk River Area School Board with its own recommendations for plan approval and implementation at its May 21 work session.

“Board members will drill down deeper, ask questions and get answers before approving the plan and deciding on the first year of implementation,” Superintendent Mark Bezek said.

This will be the Elk River Area School District’s second strategic plan in six years. The first one served the district well, Bezek said.

Debbi Rydberg, executive director of the Elk River Chamber of Commerce, listened in during the unveiling of the Strategic Plan that was assembled by a 70-plus-member task force, which was broken into the three groups. The Elk River Area School Board will take the matter up at its May 21 work session to begin work on approving the document and begin the process of implementing the first year of the plan.

But that one was crafted for different reasons. It was created internally and with the help of the School Board. It helped a district and board mired in controversy and distrust dig out and begin moving test scores in the right direction, not to mention get the district’s financial house in order.

Jana Hennen-Burr, the assistant superintendent in charge of educational services, took a moment at the unveiling to pause and reflect on past work and successes and to honor the history and the work that has been done.

“We haven’t gotten this far in our journey without the work of many people. Parents, teachers, principals, cooks, custodians, students, everybody,” she said. “It really is a time to celebrate. We have made great gains. Not just student achievement, but fiscal responsibility, changing policies and procedures.”

Hennen-Burr said it has been a great ride, but added there is more good work ahead.

Bezek said he couldn’t be happier with the results, which he said provide a pathway and permission to do a lot of things.

Rogers High School students Ross Conn (background) and Trevor Spring are two of the students who assembled a powerful video for the presentation.

“We have a new road map to the to the future that gives us permission to say yes or no to initiatives that are hitting us every day,” he said. “I say that with no disrespect to the last plan or the people that worked on it. If you look back two years ago, we didn’t even know what an iPad was and now they are everywhere,
Bezek said. “We’re in a different place. The world is a different place.”

Hinkle and other task force members threw up cautions. Hinkle recalled sharing preliminary results of the strategic planning efforts with some school staff members he knows and getting a cool response along the lines of “so, it’s just another initiative.”

“We cannot let this be ‘just another initiative,’ ” he said. “I didn’t sign up for just another initiative.”

Jamie Plantenberg-Selbitschka said the district’s leadership will have to fight the resistance to change that is sure to surface.

“We all know it’s difficult,” Plantenberg-Selbitschka said. “Transformational change can be an even bigger challenge.

“What we’re proposing is thoughtful, purposeful culture change. It’s not something Mark (Bezek) and Jana (Hennen-Burr) were at Boondox and said ‘hey, we should do this.’ People spent countless time and energy. They poured their heart and soul into this, and we want to see it come to fruition.”

Plantenberg-Selbitschka said if the new plan takes root, students, parents and the community at-large should be able to notice them acting differently. She added it will require professionals to look into a mirror and be willing to humbly accept what they see.

“The power will be in our willingness to look at it, accept it and begin to work on impacting those around us,” she said. “I hope we have the courage to walk the walk.”

Success will require abandoning certain past practices.

“Some stuff will have be retired,” said Tom Sturneman, a local pastor and member of the core team. “That will step on toes and hurt feelings, but that’s part of leadership.”

Sturneman, said he believes the plan, if implemented, will help bring different places and different cultures together, “which will positively empower its learners as it educates and inspires them to dream and accomplish individually.”

The key will be not to let it sit on a shelf or languish in sets of meeting minutes.

“You have to give it away.”

Bezek said he gets tears in his eyes every time he thinks about the amount of work that went into the plan.

“I can’t say thank you enough,” Bezek said. “We’ve got to put this plan in place. I hate to say it, but we’re not doing some things we should do in this district.

“There’s reasons for that, but that’s why we do the strategic plan, to start moving in a direction.”

Elk River Area School District Mission
Our mission is to educate, inspire & empower our diverse learners, to shape their futures, to accomplish their dreams and to contribute positively to our local and global communities.