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Kathy Staub: Manchester school board developing strategic plan for future

June 23. 2013 3:43PM

Another school year has just come to a close, but the work of the Manchester Board of School Committee and our school district leaders will continue throughout the summer. Notably, we will be working with our new superintendent on developing a comprehensive strategic plan for the Manchester School District.

The recently expanded strategic planning committee will begin the work of developing updated vision and mission statements, setting goals for improving student achievement, and brainstorming strategies for attaining those goals. Our new committee members are drawn from parents, teachers, principals and the higher-education community.

We began the strategic planning process last November with our first community engagement session. In March we held a follow-up session with community members. Also during March, Curriculum Management Systems, a nationally recognized independent educational auditing company, came to the city to conduct a professional audit of the Manchester School District's policies and practices. Four auditors, with more than a century of education experience between them, pored over policies and documents, conducted interviews with key stakeholders, and visited every public school in the city.

This audit will give us an objective assessment of our current performance levels and help determine which areas we need to concentrate on to get the best possible outcomes for our students. While we all know that there are many great things happening in our schools every day, the audit process is designed to identify the weaknesses in our system.

For years we have speculated about what has been holding us back. The School Board commissioned this audit to get an objective assessment of how our system differs from currently recognized best practice. We know that defensiveness and denial will not help us achieve our goal of improvement and we are prepared to receive the report with open minds.

Openness and transparency are essential to the type of accountability system we are trying to put in place with this process. The report, which will likely be 250 pages long, will be posted on the school district website after the lead auditor presents it at the Curriculum and Instruction Committee meeting on June 26. We hope that the community at large will also embrace this audit as an important management tool that will help us transform the Manchester School District into a model of 21st Century excellence in education.

Our incoming Superintendent, Dr. Debra Livingston, impressed the school board during the interview process with her knowledge of and commitment to strategic planning. With her help, we will develop a solid plan which will serve as a guide for the next three to five years. The plan will help us be more proactive and focused in our decision-making.

The Strategic Planning Committee aims to have a completed plan ready for board approval in November, one year after we first started the process. We don't want the strategic plan to be just another document that sits on the shelf and gathers dust. The goals identified in the strategic plan will be widely publicized and progress will be reported to the Board of School Committee and the public on a regular basis.

Developing this strategic plan is not a one-time activity. We hope that this will establish a new approach to planning and decision-making, one that most school districts the size and complexity of Manchester have relied on for decades. We are very excited about the work we will be doing this summer and we look forward to the positive changes to our school system that will result.

Kathy Staub is an at-large member of the Manchester Board of School Committee.

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