The District 65 School Board met

on Saturday, Feb. 23, in the Jordan Teacher Center to begin the process of preparing a five-year strategic plan for School District 65.

Bill Attea, chairman of the consulting firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, Ltd., led the meeting and recommended a structure for the strategic plan. Mr. Attea was formerly a superintendent of a school district in Glenview for 24 years. He has worked with many school districts throughout the country in developing strategic plans.

In preparing the strategic plan, Mr. Attea told members of the Board, “Follow the KISS approach – Keep It Strategically Simple. The simpler it is, the more likely it will guide the District. The more complex it is, the more likely it will become a doormat.”

He said it was important to ensure there is broad input from parents, administrators, teachers and the community. “Generally you can’t have change from the top down,” he said. “You need to engage people.” The strategic plan is “a roadmap to the future,” and unless there is buy-in from all these groups, “the strategic plan won’t be the driving force of the District.”

Mr. Attea also cautioned, “The best districts are those that change slowly. Change in social culture, which a school is, comes slowly and requires a lot of energy. Districts that try to change overnight often implode.”

“Follow the KISS approach – Keep It Strategically Simple. The simpler it is, the more likely it will guide the District. The more complex it is, the more likely it will become a doormat.” — Bill Attea, District 65 Consultant

Mr. Attea said three key components of the strategic plan were to define the District’s mission, vision and core beliefs.

“Every Board member, administrator and teacher should know the mission statement,” said Mr. Attea. “Every parent and every child fourth grade and above should recognize it.” The mission statement should be simple, such as, for example, “Success for every child every day.”

The vision statement should set out, “what you want to see the District look like in the future,” he said. “We like a five-year strategic plan, but we look five to ten years ahead for the vision statement.”

Mr. Attea said the Board should use the core beliefs to prioritize the District’s work. “District 65 can do anything it wants to do, but it can’t do everything. … You don’t have unlimited resources; you have to prioritize,” he said. “This is where the core beliefs come in. They are what is going to drive your decision-making.”

Long-Term Goals

Mr. Attea said the strategic plan should provide for stability in leadership and governance, organizational focus, continuous improvement and continuous review. In order to provide organizational focus, the plan should identify about 20 long-term goals to achieve the District’s vision, and each year the Board should pick out two or three goals to focus on, he said. The administration should prepare an action plan to meet the goals.

He recommended that the Board select the annual goals at a retreat, open to the public, and said generally a Board should consider new programs only at the retreat so all the proposals can be considered in relation to each other.

He said the goals need to be specific. “If you don’t determine what your product is at the end of a goal, then you don’t have a goal.” He added that every person who has a role in achieving the goals needs to be evaluated and held responsible. As an example, he said, for a reading goal the superintendent, the assistant superintendent of instruction, the principals and the teachers need to be held accountable. He said goals often expect people to do things differently without preparing them to do things differently. He said the District will need to provide training and effective implementation and should hold every person accountable.

“Everyone in the organization needs to change for the education of kids,” he said.

The Process

Mr. Attea recommended that the Board appoint a strategic planning committee composed of 30 to 60 persons to prepare the strategic plan. While the Board discussed a number of variations, there appeared to be consensus that the committee would consist of all of the members of the Board, administrators from the central office, an undetermined number of principals and teachers (who would represent elementary, middle and magnet schools), and one parent from each of the District’s 16 schools.

In order to move the process forward, Mr. Attea will prepare a draft “job description” for committee members, which will set forth their role and the expected time requirements, and an application for prospective committee members. Both documents are subject to Board approval. A majority of Board members and administrators favored holding the meetings on Saturdays.

Various timelines were proposed that ranged from completing the strategic plan by the end of this school year to completing it no later than December. A number of Board members expressed concerns that additional time may be needed to get input from all segments of the community and in light of other time requirements of the Board, including the time needed to negotiate a new contract with the teachers union.

Mr. Attea suggested that if the committee met on two Saturdays in both April and May, it could complete a substantial portion of a strategic plan by the end of the school year and it could hold public hearings in September. No definitive timetable was set.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...