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School District 65’s Strategic Planning Committee signed off on a draft five-year strategic plan for the District at the end of a seven-hour meeting on Sept.13, the seventh lengthy meeting held by the Committee. The draft plan contains a proposed mission statement, a statement of core values, and goals to prioritize the District’s focus during the next five years. The only remaining piece is a vision statement of how the Committee would like the District to look in five years, which the District’s facilitator, William Attea, is putting together based on input from the Committee.

The Committee plans to obtain input on the draft plan in three different sessions with administrators, teachers and staff. School Board member Bonnie Lockhart said the Committee will also hold four public hearings – one on each Thursday in October – to obtain input from the community. After that, the Committee will put together its final plan and submit it to the School Board for action.

The Committee is composed of 40 persons: five central-office administrators; seven principals or vice-principals; 11 teachers, all seven School Board members; nine parents (including the PTA Council president); and one member of the business community.

Two weeks ago the administration presented three-year goals to the School Board. The Board has asked the administration to summarize how the proposed three-year goals lineup with the draft five-year strategic plan.

The Mission and the Core Values Set Priorities

The proposed new mission statement is: “Educating each student to succeed and contribute in our global community by cultivating creativity, compassion and the pursuit of excellence.” In earlier meetings, Mr. Attea said the mission statement is intended to answer the question, “What does District 65 hope to accomplish?”

The statement of core values is intended to provide focus to planning. “You don’t have unlimited resources; you have to prioritize,” Mr. Attea said in earlier meetings. “This is where the core beliefs come in. They are what is going to drive your decision-making.”

The Committee approved a list of 14 core values, the first of which is, “We value excellence in education for all students in all schools.” The list also states that the District values the role of parents as the primary educators of their children; the preparation of students to be productive citizens of a diverse, global community; high expectations; an inclusive environment that respects diversity in race, culture, socio-economic status, religion and family structures; and collaborative decision-making.

Unlike the District’s prior strategic plan, the proposed draft reflects a preference for stating values and goals in universal terms (i.e. “all” students), rather than for specific subgroups. The reference to “all students” means all students, several Committee members said. “We have to be careful about how we break out groups,” one teacher added. “It creates stratification.”

“We need to be careful we don’t accentuate differences that would divide us,” said Mr. Attea. “If you really believe in excellence in education for all students in all schools, that’s a powerful statement. If there are deficiencies that need to be addressed, put them in the goals.”

Goals: Areas to Focus On

The Committee approved six overarching goals and 20 goals that are grouped by topic into six strands: curriculum; instruction; student and family support; staff and instructional support; community outreach and services; and facilities and finances. The goals are intended to represent the things the District needs to address in the next five years, Mr. Attea said.

Rigor and Enrichment. Two of the overarching goals are to develop and implement “high standards for rigor” in all academic areas and to provide “high quality enrichment activities for all students.” These goals respond to concerns expressed by many parents in the last year.

Prepared for High School. The Committee approved goals that “District 65 graduates are prepared for high school” and that they “have the necessary literacy and numeracy skills to be successful in high school and adult life.” School Board member Keith Terry suggested that the goal be tightened up to say that 95 percent of the students have the skills necessary to succeed in high school. “Right now,” he said, “how do you grade this?” Mr. Attea responded, “Normally long-term goals don’t put this [a measure] in there, but if they weren’t in short-term goals I’d be disappointed.”

Pre-K Education. The Committee approved two goals addressing pre-K education. The District is providing pre-K services to about 300 children this year, but School Board member Mary Rita Luecke expressed concern that many children are not prepared for school when they enter kindergarten. While some Committee members expressed concerns at earlier meetings about the District’s financial ability to expand its pre-K programs, the Committee approved a goal, “To ensure that all children in need of pre-K education have access to pre-K education as a step to ensuring students are performing at grade level by the end of second grade.” Dr. Murphy said the District controls the quality of its pre-K programs and proposed the second goal approved by the Committee, “To ensure that all children in District 65’s pre-K program are ready to learn in kindergarten.”

Foreign Language. In recognition that today’s students will live in a global society, the Committee approved a goal, “To introduce a world language curriculum in grades K-8.” The District currently provides foreign language in seventh and eighth grades. It is anticipated a K-8 foreign language program would require a whole new approach. Kathy Rutherford, a District 65 teacher, said the program would require 15-20 teachers. “It’s not that the District wouldn’t love to do that, it’s a matter of dollars. I wouldn’t like to cut back drama in exchange for foreign language,” she said. Assistant Superintendent Susan Schultz said 15 teachers would cost about $825,000. She asked what the District would cut to find those dollars and where would the District find time in the school day to offer foreign language. Mr. Attea said, “You may have to rethink what you’re doing. …If you want to stimulate your students, you may have to replace what you’re currently doing.”

Achievement Gap. The Committee approved a goal, “To make continuous progress toward eliminating the achievement gap.” District 65 parent and Committee member Jessica Clarke advocated for this goal saying, “This should be a continued priority.” Several persons said they thought the goal was covered by other goals and said they thought it would be divisive. District 65 parent and Committee member Karen Larkin-Young said, “When I hear closing the achievement gap, it implies bringing down students who are up here. I would rather express it as improving performance of all students.” Dr. Murphy said the District has significantly improved the performance of African-American students and done so while improving the performance of white students. “We’re addressing the needs for enrichment of high-achieving students,” he said. “We have enough [resources] not to abandon this. This is a high moral issue.”

Resources. The last of a long list of goals is “To effectively and efficiently utilize District resources based on the respective needs of students, by addressing the priority goals of the District.” This appeared to be somewhat short of a goal proposed by Ms. Clarke to allocate more money to schools that had higher percentages of low-income children. “I don’t feel the overall plan addresses the needs of low-income kids,” she said. Board member Mary Rita Luecke said the District already devotes more resources to students who are challenged. Dr. Murphy said that Title I schools (schools with a certain percentage of low-income students) receive more funds than other schools because they receive federal grants that other schools do not receive. He added there is a “balancing act” and a “tension” in allocating resources to schools. He said the administration did not want to allocate so much to one school that it would leave students at another school without adequate support. He also said the needs of a student from a well-to-do family had to be considered as well as the needs of other students.

The Committee adopted many additional goals, including to provide parents guidance to enhance the success of their children, to successfully implement differentiated instruction and enrichment, to implement technology mediated instruction, to monitor and assist struggling students, to ensure the integration and inclusion of students with disabilities in all programs, to create a welcoming climate that engages parents more in the education of their children, to support collaboration and joint planning among teachers, to recruit and retain a highly qualified and diverse staff, to develop a stronger relationship with School District 202 and Northwestern University, and to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the District’s facilities.

For a complete listing of the draft mission, core values and goals approved by the Committee see the online edition of the RoundTable.