Board digs into strategic planning

by Jim Boyle

The Elk River Area School Board took its next step toward approving a long-range strategic plan Monday night at a work session by reviewing the recommendations of the Strategic Plan Task Force’s core planning team.

Of the 35 recommendations from the district’s 70-plus-member task force, nine have been recommended by core planning team as the first orders of business.

“Nine is a lot,” Superintendent Mark Bezek said in prefacing his remarks at the May 21 work session. “We can take all nine, but they have to be phased.

“Eventually all 35 have to be mapped out for year two, year three, year four and year five.”

School board members were not the least bit caught off guard, as they had heard about all 35 recommendations at the unveiling of the group’s work on May 7. They knew then nine had been singled out for immediate consideration.

Highlights include requests to research all-day, everyday kindergarten as well as flexible scheduling that could include examinations of online learning, multi-age grouping, year-round schools and professional learning communities (PLCs).

Other notable highlights include establishing a welcome center for new learners that showcases the district and its diverse populations.

There are also proposals being recommended to develop a culture that values collaboration with parents and community organizations and agencies to achieve the mission of the school district, as well as the development of a community council that reflects the cradle-through-retirement that understands the district’s mission and facilitates an integrated community collaboration to help the district achieve its strategic objectives.

What has the attention of the Elk River Area School Board is the gravity of the task before them, the administration and the district’s staffs.

They talked about the need for transformational change, culture shifts in the schools and how to measure the district’s progress in these efforts.

“I know we have measurement for the learners,” said vice chairwoman Jane Bunting. “We’ll need to know where we are with (something like) a United Way thermometer or our own little dashboard.”

The process for getting the information out into the schools will be slow and methodical, starting with the superintendent’s cabinet, branching out to the district’s Collaborative Leadership Team that includes all third-level administrators from principals and teaching and learning leaders, to administrators of purchasing and human resources.

“This is not a sit-and-get group,” Bezek said. “It’s a learning organization.
The goal for this group will be to have a shared vision of the skills, knowledge and dispositions necessary for successful leadership.”

Once the plan is adopted, it will be up to these administrators to ensure that it’s imbedded in their work and they have the necessary leadership training.

“We have to live and breathe (the strategic plan) every time we meet as principals and as administrators … to trickle it through the system,” said Jana Hennen-Burr, the assistant superintendent.

District employees will need to understand the strategic objectives and why they are important to learner success, administrators noted.

Charlie Blesener, the director of community engagement, said there will need to be a buy-in for the major cultural shift.

“We’re going to need to do this in a way we’re not just talking at them and just showing stuff,” he said.
“We’ll need dialogue that helps them understand more completely and what it means to them personally get to a point where (others can) articulate.

“Think about anything you ever learned or acquired or value deeply.  You had some type of personal connection to that before it had meaning for you, as opposed to learning something by rote.”