Define and Revise

To begin crafting the scope of work for the strategic planning process, we continued to review relevant internal and external documents...

including the Superintendent’s Entry Plan Report and the Accelerated Improvement Plan that had been mandated by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. We also immersed ourselves in some of the scholarship on strategic planning (Kusy & McBain, 2000) and explored various resources on strategic planning in K-12 educational contexts (KnowledgeWorks, 2015).

Finalizing the Scope

We then set out to interview several key members of the Senior Management Team. Their answers to our interview questions provided us with a deeper understanding of what was happening in the school district and the relationship between the district and many of its stakeholders. This information gave us additional context as we began to draft the scope of work for the strategic planning process. Our next step was to map out the timeline of the project.

We sent the draft scope of work to the superintendent and the Senior Management Team for their review and then convened a two-hour, in-person meeting with the team. This meeting proved highly productive along several dimensions. Most importantly, it was the first time that the full Senior Management Team -- including three new members -- were gathered in one room to step back from the daily grind and discuss the strategic planning process.

Taking a Leap of Faith

One of the key topics of conversation in this meeting was the extent to which the community would be involved. In Salem, the Senior Management Team wanted meaningful community engagement, but wondered when it would be best to begin the collaboration--at the very beginning of the process or once the management team had identified the key levers for change.

We expect that this might be an issue for leaders in many school districts because it does require a leap of faith that:

  1. it's worth the additional time that is invariably required, regardless of when the community engages and
  2. the sharing of power will lead to positive outcomes.

In Salem, they identified concrete tasks in which the community would be authentically engaged, enabling the district leadership to assume responsibility in line with their areas of professional expertise.

Following this meeting with the superintendent and the Senior Management Team, we revised the scope and gave them the opportunity to review and provide feedback, as this helped to build a sense of ownership and engagement in the process.

Listening to District Leadership

To deepen our learning about the district and its leaders’ aspirations for the future, we conducted extended interviews with members of the Senior Management Team, including the Chief Academic Officer, the Director of Special Education and Student Support Services, the Chief Strategy Officer, and the Director of Community Partnerships, during which we asked key questions about their desired future for the school district, their perspectives on the current state of the school district, and their thoughts on the upcoming strategic planning process.

The process of conducting these interviews provided us with valuable baseline information about the strengths and challenges of the district and helped us get to know district leadership on a personal level.

We heard over and over again that the district had experienced significant turmoil in recent years and that there were wounds to heal.  This strengthened our resolve to lead with the district's strengths, rather than its weaknesses or limitations. Staying focused on strengths and aspirations, we were able to move people from complaining about the past to embracing a more hopeful future. The history of the district was honored, but in the name of learning and moving forward. 

We took copious notes during these interviews and synthesized them into a summary document. We referred back to the interview findings time and again throughout the strategic planning process.

More about: Senior Management Team Retreats

key takeaways

  • Feedback
    Ensure that district leaders provide feedback on the scope of work; it helps build their sense of engagement and ownership of the work to come.
  • Communicate
    Take time at the beginning of the process to speak with district leaders and community members to understand their vision for the future of the school district and city.
  • Focus
    Focus on the community's vision for the future to prevent people from dwelling on the city/district's weaknesses and limitations.