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Analysis: Little change seen in D65 strategic plan

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If an organization’s strategic plan is expected to propose bold strategies for change, there is little of that in the three-year draft strategic plan that is expected to be voted upon at tonight’s meeting of the Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board.

Essentially, the 48-page draft calls for more of the same, only doing it better.

For example, one strategy in the section devoted to encouraging community and family engagement with the school system is to “hire or identify a senior administrator solely responsible for family and community engagement.”

In the section on financial sustainability, the plan recognizes that state and federal funding sources are uncertain, but the strategy to deal with that is to “implement a systematic prioritization process to align District 65 programs and practices with available resources.”

Also, the plan calls for the district to “seek additional revenue sources” that could include “payments from TIF agreements, TIF surplus payments, new or increased fees, special or competitive state or federal grants, payments in lieu of taxes, or additional revenue that could be secured through a successful operating referendum.”

Taxpayers looking for a strategy that calls for the district “to reduce the non-instructional staff by 25 percent” will be disappointed.

There is no plan to increase the “virtual consolidation” of the two public school districts, nor to explore the feasibility of implementing a year-round school calendar.

Most of the strategies are of the “baseball and apple pie” variety, such as this one, designed to promote a high quality of teaching and learning:

“Improve curriculum quality and reinforce curriculum implementation by equipping teachers with a coherent instructional framework used to define high quality curriculum and instruction.”

Is that a way of saying we aren’t already doing that?

The plan is at its best in defining overall goals that would be applicable to any public school system:

1. High Quality Teaching and Learning – The school principal serves as the catalyst for change and as the instructional leader, setting a high bar for all. Teachers and teacher leaders provide ambitious instruction that challenges students and is coordinated within and across grades. The quality of our teaching is measured by student learning.

2. Thriving Workforce – All staff have the knowledge and skills needed to perform their jobs. Everyone is committed to advancement and professional learning and growth. Teachers are engaged in school based Professional Learning Communities, continually improving their teaching practice. The key to sustaining improvement over time is the quality of people that we recruit and retain in positions across the District.

3. Safe and Supportive School Climate – School is a place where children feel safe and supported because of the structures and relationships created in each building. Schools are safe spaces, where students are engaged, understand high expectations and are motivated to work hard. Adults provide the necessary academic and social supports for student success.

4. Family and Community Engagement – Parents, guardians and families are seen as partners by school staff. Parents, guardians and families are given opportunities to volunteer and assist in decision-making at the school. Parents, guardians and families make connections between school and home for their children, emphasizing the importance of school. Community partners are welcome to engage in the learning processes and social and emotional development of all children.

5. Financial Sustainability – High performing districts, academically and through social and emotional supports, must be financially strong in areas of budgeting, forecasting, finances and short- and long-range operating and capital planning.

But as far as proposing bold strategies to deal with these goals, the plan is essentially lacking.

Nevertheless, some 2,000 stakeholders in the district, including parents, teachers, students, administrators, staff, and other community members, contributed their views to the authors of the final draft.

The fact that this large cadre of well-meaning citizens came up with few recommendations for significant change could very well mean that they are satisfied with the way things are going and that the key strategy could be summarized as “stay the course.”

After all, we are in the middle of school board election season, and none of the candidates has made any bold proposals either.

And in a survey conducted by the district, more than 94 percent of the respondents rated the level of education provided by the district as “satisfactory” or better.

We may very well be like Kansas City in the Broadway musical “Oklahoma” in that we may have gone about as “fer” as we can go.

If the school board agrees, we should hear about it tonight. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at district headquarters, 1500 McDaniel Ave.

Charles Bartling

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio stations and business-oriented magazines.

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