Seven Strategies for Seven Teams in Old Saybrook Public Schools

Amid the daily tasks of delivering education and managing staff, facilities, and budgets, there is rarely time to step back to look at the choices made. Yet each day and in each budget, the school district in fact makes choices that allocate spending, staffing, and resources in discrete ways. So this school year, the Board of Education decided to update the district's strategic plan to re-define the strategies and decision criteria that should guide future spending, program, and resource decisions.

Late last month the planning project's seven Action Teams presented the results of their months of effort in reports presented in a day-long meeting with the 32-member Strategic Planning Steering Committee.

"In the past, our philosophy has been to take small cuts from different areas of our budget. But all of us are feeling we're at a crossroads. We have to look at how we deliver services and how we use facilities across the board," said Schools Business Manager Julie Pendleton.

"The plan will allow us to re-allocate aspects of our budget to align with the beliefs and objectives we set for the Old Saybrook Public Schools," said Superintendent of Schools Joseph Onofrio.

To create a broad-based plan reflecting views of many stake-holders, the board chose to hire a professional facilitator, Cambridge Strategic Services, to lead and direct the project at a cost of $40,000 for the year-long effort.

The planning process began in the fall of 2010 with an initial day-long planning team meeting. At that meeting, the team developed a list of seven strategies to focus the work of the seven Action Teams.

Each strategy was assigned to a team of 10 volunteers who met weekly over several months to research the issue and develop specific action plans to address it. The seven Action Team reports were presented at an all-day session of the Strategic Planning Steering Committee held late last month.

What were the strategies assigned to each team? The first was to develop and implement a systemic and transparent procedure for evaluating program effectiveness and validity. The second was to improve internal and external communications and expand collaborations among staff, families, and the greater community. The third was to develop comprehensive services working with families and the community to address social and emotional needs that may interfere with a student's ability to learn.

The fourth strategy was to ensure that instruction delivered is data-driven and uses student assessment data effectively to differentiate instruction to meet each student's needs. The fifth was to develop a comprehensive character education program that reflects the values of the community. The sixth was to create a system to assist students to develop and accomplish a personal success plan (a new state requirement) and the seventh and final strategy was to embed in courses across the curriculum skill-building to improve students' critical thinking, problem-solving, technology application, and communication skills.

Among those on the Steering Committee directing the process are members of the Board of Education, school administration, school staff, the police department, and elected members of the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance. More than 70 community members, staff, and parent volunteers have served together on one of the seven Action Teams whose reports were presented last month.

On the day after the action plans were presented, the Steering Committee met all day to analyze the action plans, discuss them, and reach consensus on each strategy's plan. Each action plan and its descriptive material is now being assembled into a draft strategic plan document by Heston Suttman, the district's internal coordinator for the planning process.

"The finalized action plans will be presented to the Board of Education at a meeting in early June and also will be posted on the school district's website," said Onofrio.

The planning process facilitator will return to the district in early July to work with the district's administrative team to develop specific commitments for the next school year.

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