By Megan Kelley
Lake Orion Community Schools Board of Education is getting ready to begin the strategic planning process. To kick-start the process, the board was visited by Debbie Stair, Assistant Director of Leadership Development at the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB) during their meeting on July 21.
Strategic planning had been a hot topic of discussion back in 2019 with the majority of the board agreeing to table strategic plan talks until after hiring a new superintendent. Now that Ben Kirby has finished out his first year as superintendent of LOCS, the board has decided now is the right time to circle back around and update their strategic plan.
Strategic planning, as defined by Stair, is the process of determining what an organization wants to be at some point in the future and how it will get there.
Stair started out her presentation by outlining the key work of boards. According to the National School Boards Association, in order to create the best opportunity for positive student impact, boards need to focus on relationships, vision, community leadership, policy and accountability.
“Notice that vision is one of the five,” Stair said. “That’s really what we’re talking about tonight, is ensuring that a vision is in place and then putting in the necessary steps to get there.”
Once the plan is in place, the district must set their own goals so that everyone involved can work toward the same vision.
“Once the goals are set, you’re going to use at the board table as a guidepost for decision making,” Stair said.
Though districts are more than capable of updating their strategic plan without an outside facilitator, Stair pointed out the positive aspects of hiring an outside facilitator like MASB.
“There’s a lot of good reason; the first one is that you hired your staff for their expertise. So, you want them to have a voice in the plan but a good facilitator loses their voice. The facilitator’s role is to move the process forward and ensure that we get to the outcomes that we want,” Stair said.
Additionally, because of their experience, MASB recognizes potential barriers and opportunities while also alleviating the pressure that this sort of task would have on district staff.
Having a neutral third party facilitate the planning is also an advantage because people are more likely to speak freely when offering input or feedback.
In creating a new strategic plan, there are five steps: pre-planning, analysis needs assessment, strategic formulation, implementation planning and documentation.
This is the stage the district is currently in.
The pre-planning phase includes the reviewing of the proposal and discussion of the process, which is what this presentation served as.
In the coming months, the district is expected to continue in this phase by analyzing their previous strategic plan, finalize the scope of the process, choose dates and select reference districts.
In this stage, MASB begins the process of collecting stakeholder input (face-to-face input sessions and electronic surveys) data and educational (demographic, student achievement and financial) data.
Once data is collected, a group of about 40-45 people; including the board of education, internal staff and external community members, will meet for a planning team retreat.
“We help the district determine who is going to be invited to that process. What we want is a broad range of perspectives,” Stair said.
At this retreat, the group will spend eight hours on a Saturday discussing current initiatives, reviewing the data, developing a vision, mission and beliefs as well as strategic goal areas, generate goal objectives, finalize the goal statement and identify the next steps.
Once decisions as far as goals and objectives have been made, MASB works with a group of about 12-18 staff members and those staff members will determine what the first-year objectives for the district are.
MASB will aid in breaking down and put it in calendar form and develop action plans.
At this point, communication will be essential between the district and staff and community members.
“Communications is probably one of the most important pieces to this because you’re going to invite people into this process all throughout and you need to keep them aware of the progress made – bumps in the road and all,” Stair said. “You need to continue to really put out the information people need to understand that what you’re doing is being done because you have a vision.”
MASB will return with summary reports of all the work that had just been done as well as a one-page plan that can be shared with the community that same day.
The district will then be asked to adopt the plan and once that has happened MASB will discuss progress monitoring.
“If boards don’t monitor the progress on a regular basis, it either slows down or it stops altogether,” Stair said. “So really, after the approval to move forward with the process the most important role you have is the monitoring of the process.”
Because LOCS has been putting off strategic planning for several years at this point, many members of the board and cabinet are eager to get the process started. That said, the input sessions are currently set for November with the possibility of holding some sessions in late October. These input sessions are expected to take until the end of December.
The planning retreat and implementation workshop are planned for January and February of 2022 with the board approval of plan expected to take place in March.