Strategic planning talks stir up discussion on community engagement, communication about LOCS school bond at June 26 board meeting

By Megan Kelley

Review Writer

During their June 26 meeting, the Lake Orion Community Schools Board of Education heard from Kay Cornell, senior consultant for Learning Forward, and Suzanne Klein, Professor in Oakland University’s School of Education and Human Services, regarding the district’s plans to update their strategic plan.

“The board has spent some time in previous meetings, as well as workshops, to start looking at the concept of strategic planning,” said Superintendent Marion Ginopolis. “We have a strategic plan that has been in place for a number of years. We’ve attacked it as a board, what I mean by attacking it is; we’ve reviewed it, we’ve made some revisions and so forth, but as we have new members on the board over the past couple of years, we talked about redoing and revisiting our entire strategic plan.”

Both Cornell and Klein have extensive experience in the educational world and were able to take those experiences and create a process for best creating a new strategic plan.

Their recommendation for the district consisted of forming a strategic planning committee of 30-40 members (teachers, students, parents, senior citizens, counsel members, business owners, etc.) that would meet only a handful of times over a short time frame. The committee would discuss the district’s goals and how to best achieve them.

Klein added that school districts sometimes hold a community forum before the formal process begins.

“The notion is to bring people together and have a general conversation about teaching, learning, background information about the district’s current state in a very general way, but then ask people in a systematic three-step process to sit together in groups of six, seven or eight…and they’d be asked about vision…your values and beliefs and some ideas about goals,” said Klein. “It’s a wonderful way to pull together some good…yeasty ideas about what your community has on it’s mind to start the process.”

Several board members voiced concern about putting time and energy into yet another project with bond implementation being in full swing and being a very large project in and of itself.

“I know that we’ve discussed the thought of pushing that off for a year and concentrating on bond implementation and furniture committees and design committees and building committees and I kind of thought that’s where we landed, but I guess we didn’t, I guess I was wrong. But my feeling is that this is something that needs to get pushed out a year as opposed to starting it in August. That’s my feeling,” said board Vice President Scott Taylor.”

Trustee Nate Butki agreed with Taylor.

“It makes sense to me, we have so much to talk about right now with the community and the things that are going on that, if we’re going to go out and get into a robust conversation, we haven’t even gotten into a robust conversation on bond implementation so we got a lot of work to do on that,” Butki said. “So, it’s a lot. So I think it’s worth really digging into — what are all the things we need to be out working with people on and where does this stack up from a timing side?”

While Taylor, Butki and Trustee Jake Singer all agreed that communication with the community regarding bond implementation should take precedent over strategic planning, several other board members spoke up in favor of moving forward with forming a new strategic plan.

“So when we started this conversation in December and we all had opportunity for input, it was determined that based on the history that we’ve been through, all of these years of phase one through phase five, that this was the perfect time to reset the district, especially with the bond being passed and moving forward with the district. So I’m a little confused at the discussion, but I welcome it,” said board President Birgit McQuiston.

Treasurer Jim Weidman also spoke in favor of moving forward with implementing a new strategic plan, stating that this would allow the district to get in-step with the first phase of the bond as far as planning.

“It may give us reason to make some different decisions about the bond money, too. And I hate to make decisions about the bond money — I’m talking specific versus general — and then have the process of the strategic plan kind of send us into a little bit different direction and we’ve already made capital commitments to certain things.”

It was clear that communication and community involvement had quickly become the main focus of discussion between board members and Ginopolis.

“First of all, I think we have a very careful plan of how we are engaging the community in the implementation of the bond,” said Ginopolis. “To me, these are two very separate issues. The bond, we have a decision-making and advisor structure that we shared with the board and the board approved; the project management team that meets every week, our subcommittees and so forth. So in terms of engaging people in that, I think that we’ve done a masterful job in that…to me that’s a separate issue then ‘Do we need to have some other things in place before we begin strategic planning?’ But I don’t feel comfortable tying that in with any conversation that says we are not engaging the community in the bond, I think that’s not accurate information. I think we are.”

Ginopolis directed those who do not feel they have been communicated with regarding the bond to the district’s website, www.lakeorionschools.org.

Butki noted that he expected that people not currently involved in the bond process would be aware and given updates of the bond’s development, when the time comes, and also voiced concern over adding too much to their already lengthy list of projects and not being able to deliver on promises already made as far as community outreach and communication.

“We have all these series of decisions that are being made and are made, (but) how are we updating people? We know how we updated them for the sinking fund. Are we following that same playbook or are we doing more? And then what is that? Because if we look at it and say, ‘We’re following the same playbook,’ and it’s communication and (Communications and Marketing Director) Mark (Snyder) is leading it and we point people to the website, that’s cool… If we want to do more and we want to be taking it forward more then we’re obligating more,” said Butki. “It’s committing our attention and resources on a topic…and when we look at the way we want to be outreaching to people, we can’t do all of these things all at the same time…if we’ve got to line up and go engage through a bunch of conversations with people or if we want to be more or less involved, we just have a lot to do. So it’s just a matter of when we have a lot to do, what are we doing first, second and third.”

Singer stated that he believes the board should “challenge” themselves when it comes to how they are engaging the community as the bond process continues.

“The community involvement in the board projects…that’s something that I think we really need to challenge ourselves. That we don’t just have our internal design committees come up with something, (it) goes to (the) architect, goes to (the) project manager and, boom, it’s there. That we really have to challenge ourselves for how we’re going to engage our community,” said Singer. “It’s the competition of the resources. There are a certain number of community members who are going to be engaged, so we as a board have to decide how do we want to use those dedicated people who want to get engaged and I don’t think we’ve coaxed out that community involvement for these bond projects. We are the stewards of their money and as of yet we haven’t brought them in.”

After several minutes of back and forth discussion, the board decided to table it and continue the discussion at a later meeting.