By GAIL PARSONS
In the early part of June, a group of about 40 Abilene residents gathered on a Friday night and Saturday morning to begin formulating a strategic plan for Unified School District 435. The ultimate goal is to provide administrators and the USD 435 Board of Education with a focused long-range plan as they continue to work at providing a quality education for all students enrolled in Abilene Schools.
Superintendent Denise Guy said the volunteers constituted a cross section of the community. Each board member had submitted several names and participants were chosen from those individuals.
I am excited to report out to the community so they can see what we are doing, she said.
The process began with a common strategy called S.W.O.T. The participants were divided into five groups of seven or eight people who were tasked to come up with a list of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
Some of our strengths link back to what high level researchers believe is important in schools, she said.
From an analysis of the SWOT, five themes or goals were developed with identified purposes to clarify why each theme was necessary. For each of the themes, the group brainstormed a list of strategies that the district could conceivably implement to meet the goal.
The next step will be to take the themes/goals to the administrative team and the principals and begin paring down the strategies, or combining several strategies, and finding ways to begin implementation.
(The Strategic Planning Committee) has given us a lot of material to work with, Guy said.
But much of what developed is already being done in Abilene. For example, one of the goals addressed facilities and technology, an area that Guy said the school board has been working on for the past couple of years. The strategic planning, however, might give them more focused direction.
The plan includes a means of evaluation, so once the planning is done, and the district moves to the implementation stage, the board will be able to ensure that the plan is being followed.
I am excited about the process. I feel it is a good time for it. There is a lot of good things in place that will fit the plan and give us direction of what needs to be, Guy said.
She is looking forward to the increased collaboration that she sees formulating from the plan with higher education and the community.
We are not a separate entity. Our schools are part of the community, she said.
Following are some of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that the committee identified. The following lists are not complete but include all of those areas that were identified by two or more of the five groups.
Committed, experienced, motivated staff
Progressive and innovative staff
Quality students and families
Positive image of Abilene district and community around state
High achievement and involvement
Age and limitations of existing facilities, curricular and extra-curricular
Parent involvement, engagement, taking responsibility
Limited industrial base/low employment opportunities/stagnant population and business growth, post education opportunities
Increasing percentage of low socioeconomic status
Challenging all students, holding back high achievers
Collaboration with higher education, tech colleges, trade schools
Continuing with technology, expand virtual school options
Pre-vocation/create entrepreneurships, business models (mentorships), partnerships, increase exposure
Intergenerational and community connections
Authentic experiences through arts, recreation, and business
Pre-K education: Parents as Teachers, Mothers of Preschoolers, daycares
Collaboration with other districts
Selfish interest, entitlement mentality
Legislative agenda, political forces
Business changes in community, i.e. Alco, Fort Riley, downturn in agriculture
Technology changes, internet abuse, social media exposure
Inability to meet facility needs
Declining values, work ethic
Continued degrading of family unit and involvement
Following are the five themes/goals that the Strategic Planning Committee developed, which the administrative team and principals will use as they work toward finalizing the Strategic Plan. Listed is a selection of the strategies that the groups agreed could be part of implementation. Each theme had 10-15 strategies.
Whole Child Supports
Purpose: To provide increased continual improvement of student learning and productivity to prepare students for ever-changing world; to show that the child is valued in our community; to provide a basic foundation for success in life.
Continue Support for Extra-curricular
Identify Individual Program Volunteers
Mentoring Programs for At-Risk Students - Community based
Solidify Relationships with Local Agencies that support youth
Implement/maintain core character trait programs:
Have local businesses come in and talk with students about workplace skills/requirements/expectations.
Organizing our Pre-K Groups along a common vision
Ongoing Parent Education throughout the K-12 experience
Contact experts in the field to help develop an action plan
Systematic district-wide K-12 Basic Life Skills
Partner with community to promote and foster strong values and positive self-esteem through service learning and volunteer projects
Facilities and Technology
Purpose: Needed to compete in job market/Learn how to leverage tools. Keep facilities update for maximum learning including climate, space, and sound. They both help support the learning process quality. Appropriate facilities and technology better ensure that high academic, social, and behavior expectations can be met. Technology is a reality and its here to stay and the district facilities are aging.
Build a long term plan, 10/20 years out, on needs and improvements.
Prioritize needs of district
Community discussions, awareness - outreach to the community
Understand processes first, then tools
Continuous improvement plan for facilities
Facility upgrade: Garfield/Additional Gyms
Technology: Continue the two positions of tech integration specialists. Support upgrades in hardware when necessary, Bandwidth, iPads, security. Expand comp tech pathway. Exploring options to better integrate community and school relationships to better enhance Pre-K and post- secondary opportunities.
Analyze the plan for safety, instruction and growth
Technology Plan: Continue to explore and implement new and innovative software and products. Evaluate how its effective in the classroom. Educate parents and adults in this area.
Purpose: Healthier kids and the ability to make all things happen; Sharing of resources: Everyone enhances each other; Maintain self-worth and respect. Manage social media (appropriate behavior); Ensure student achievement
More open facilities to get families in the schools
Find out where the holes are/where more involvement can happen
Find more volunteers for activities
Keep pursuing partnerships
Get youth involved
Expand learning opportunities
Intergenerational projects/Community step up dress day.
Continue to develop strong foundation by use of core foundation principles and values (used at high school presently)
Communicate with stakeholders what the foundation elements are by establishing a public relations committee chosen from various sectors within the community.
Purpose: Help students find success. Community involvement in schools creates a community of support for each child. Expose students to broader opportunities and accelerate them into the work force at an affordable cost.
Incorporate free online college courses into the high school curriculum (open study)
Incorporate online college classes for credit at junior and senior levels
Continue to develop vocational classes and involvement
Eisenhower Community College
Vision for parents of younger students, integrate-collaborations "beyond the building"
Continue to reach out to higher ed and business. Find ways to make connection
Inventory the needs of local businesses
Engage and educate local businesses/businessmen to existing school to career/school to work programs in order to foster/mentor students
Collaborate with other school districts and post-secondary institutions
Professional Learning and Staff
Purpose: Ensure competent staff with continual growth/improvement, maintain professional learning in staff, keep educators passionate about their curriculum in order to engage a positive, challenging learning environment to achieve excellence in education.
Learning coach to help develop new/young teachers, facilitate technology.
Continuing Ed Stipend
Recruiting at universities
Keep up with Common Core requirements, especially math, reading
Align curriculum for MTSS
Opportunities for staff to learn, process, and implement "teacher buy in"
Work on ways for multiple people to attend conferences
Continue to offer quality in-service opportunities with substance and meaning.