A new process to develop “School Work Plans” was presented to the District 65 School Board on Jan. 16 by Maria Allison, Chief Strategy Officer, and Andalib Khelghati, Assistant Superintendent of Schools.

Each school in the District will develop on an annual basis its own school work plan, which is intended to guide the efforts of school administrators, teachers, and staff at the school throughout the school year.

The planning process “is all principal-led,” said Dr. Allison. “We’ve put the principals very intentionally at the center.”

The process envisions, though, that teachers and staff – and possibly the school’s SIT teams, Climate Action Teams, and parents – will be involved in the process. The District provides tools and supports that can be used in the planning process if the school’s planning team desires to use them.  

Mr. Khelghati said, “The most important thing is student results. What are the outcomes that we see in the schools? … What are the outcomes you want for children and how do you want them to be different from one year to the next?

 “The school work planning process, I would argue, provides this annual opportunity for principals and for the staff to engage in a much more real and authentic way to think about the needs of the school within the context of a District priority or prioritization of issues.

“It gives everybody in the school a sense of what the plan is, as articulated in my school.

“It gives school leaders an opportunity to have tools that they can bring in as they think about the most important work around our equity agenda, particularly around Black student achievement,” he said.

“It’s a very customizable planning process,” said Dr. Allison. “Every school team is different. Every principal’s leadership style is different. You can’t develop one plan and hand it to all of our schools and expect it to work well. You have to bake flexibility into the process.”

The updated framework is straightforward and asks each school team to:

• Review data and determine “what are the main data takeaways or headlines that you saw in the data?”

• What are the “root causes” in the areas “you have decided to focus?”

• Outcome goals, “What direction do you want to move in this year?”

• “What are the strategies you will use this year?”

Dr. Allison added, “We have baked the equity lens into the framework,” and it is part of the data analysis and the root cause analysis.

Central District administrators provide tools and supports that school administrators and staff may use at their option in developing their plans. A “dashboard”  provides 20 links to tools and supports, such as school-level data, research reports, root cause guiding questions, potential strategies, a goal setting worksheet, and an action planning conceptual framework. 

School planning teams may also attend workshops, consult with central District administrators on the planning process, ask for additional data analysis, and ask for feedback on goals or draft plans. 

Jerry Michel, principal at Willard Elementary School, told members of the School Board that new process allows “a framework to be a little more creative and also to ask harder questions. The big thing is authentic use of data and then how can we distill that data down into something we can use, but also how does it come together with our strategic plan and the District’s strategic plan.

“We used the tools and the framework to really dig deeper into the hard questions we wanted to ask. So rather than being expansive and trying to do a million things, we dial down more carefully into the things that are important to us.”

Mr. Michel added that questions about what is the “root cause” kept popping up. “That’s where we can really effect change if we correctly identify what are the root causes. We can be more active in solving challenges, rather than sitting there and seeing them over and over again.”

Mr. Michel added that the planning team worked hard to get input from parents.

Deborah Osher, Assistant Principal at Oakton Elementary School, echoed Mr. Michel’s comments. She said, “We tried to identify some key areas that we really needed to focus on. We focused more in depth on key areas of need so we could narrow down some work that we really wanted to invest in for the year.”

Wayne Williams, principal at Oakton, said, “It’s been extremely beneficial to be part of the process.” He added that parents were consulted during the process and student responses to the 5 Essentials Survey will be taken into account as well.

Dr. Allison said the new process was designed in a working group consisting of principals and administrators during the last few years. Fourteen schools are using the process this year, and it will be refined as time goes on. 

 Board members generally lauded the new approach, but asked that parents and students be involved in the process from the start.

Board member Rebeca Mendoza also said that the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center should be considered a school and that it should develop a school work plan on an annual basis.

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...