Educators refining strategic plan

Group: Focus should be on improving instructional techniques

Preparing students for life after high school is the No. 1 mission of Jefferson City Public Schools, according to a preliminary draft of the district’s strategic plan.

About 60 people — building principals, Board of Education members and other central office leaders — gathered for five hours Thursday afternoon at the Dix Road Education Center to advance the district’s strategic plan, which they have been discussing periodically for months, and learn more about the Missouri School Improvement Program, also known as MSIP 5.

The group agreed to keep the focus on improving instructional techniques, a suggestion made by Myron Graber, director of secondary education.

“You can agree or disagree with me,” he told his peers. “But if you’re going to close the achievement gap, you have to start with the instructional process. My fear is, we’ve hidden the instructional component and it’s the most powerful piece to meet for results.”

Without making instruction the focus, the strategic plan would result in lots of meaningless activity by principals and faculty and not enough accomplishment, Graber argued.

“Activities doesn’t mean results,” he said. “Research shows that strategic plans are worthless unless they are focused on instruction. We really care about instruction and learning. If you hide that, it can get lost.”

Sharon Longan, assistant principal, agreed with Graber.

“Who is this document meant for? It’s meant as a guide for us, and for our instructors. If we focus on 20 different things, we will focus on nothing. Instruction is where change occurs,” she said.

Faculty are already trying to improve the way they teach by having students take on interesting projects, focusing on character education and rewarding positive behavior. They hope to expand the use of technology in their teaching and, eventually, create several career-focused academies at the high school. Under the latter plan, between 300 and 500 students would be assigned to seven separate academies, each devoted to a different field of study. For example, in the Arts and Communications Academy, students not only would take the basics courses, they might also enroll in journalism, orchestra, debate, dance, choir, theater, etc.

Although preparing students for life is the top goal, that central mission serves as an umbrella for four other goals, including:

• Closing the achievement gap between students who are seeing academic success and those who are struggling.

• Ensuring a high-quality staff.

• Creating data-driven accountability systems.

• Building effective relationships.

The multi-page document includes dozens of goals for teachers and administrators to work toward. A handful of the ideas mentioned Thursday included: boosting the number of faculty participating in leadership programs, agreeing that all parents will receive a positive contact once per quarter or per term, trying to glean more useful information from the exit interview process, hiring more minority faculty and engaging more frequently with elected officials.

Tammy Ridgeway, principal at Simonsen 9th Grade Center, worked on the team tasked with building relationships.

“We need the community to understand that building positive relationships — between students, parents, teachers and the community — helps us to be successful,” she said.

At the end of the day, the participants turned their work in to the central office, where it will be assembled into a single document.

“We’ll work on articulating how it all fits together,” Mitchell said.

He thought the strategic plan would be evaluated again at another work retreat scheduled for the late summer and delivered to the Board of Education for their acceptance.

Mitchell emphasized the plan might be left alone for a while so it can be implemented, but it never will be finished.

“This is a document that will be forever in transition,” he said. “We’ve identified an overarching goal that we are dedicated to supporting, until our data identifies something else.”

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