So what went wrong at the retreat? This is the last installment of 3 posting about Friday, July 15's School Committee Retreat. One where they were expected to deeply engage in long term planning and reflection. This posting addresses the content of the 5 year strategic plan and the School Committee's ineffective deliberation of it.
This is a rather long posting so grab a drink and find a comfortable place to sit.
South Kingstown's school district has a 5 year strategic plan. It is a vital document to have. It provides the guidance needed to implement our mission statement over a longer period than just meeting to meeting and policy to policy. The 2010-2015 plan has lapsed and the 2015-2020 plan is a year late. Why?
I first saw the strategic plan in November, 2015. This was its "first reading," this is where a document is discussed, mistakes discovered, vagueness clarified, and omissions filled. If there are enough changes needed then a second reading is done at a later meeting. The cycle repeats until the document is acceptable and voted into policy. The November reading was the only reading the plan had until last Friday. All other attempts had it bumped from one agenda to the next due, in large part, to mismanagement of the School Committee's yearly workload.
Back to the plan.
There were 4 problems with November's plan and the problems largely remain present in Friday's plan too. In short, the plan does not review the previous plan, it contains no evaluation criteria, it does not address the campuses, and most importantly and dishearteningly it proposes a teacher-less education.
1. The new plan made no reference to the 2010-2015 plan. Understanding how a past strategy played out is vital. How has the previous 5 year plan laid for the groundwork for the next 5 years? Was it successful? If so, how? If not, why? No committee can make decisions about the future without regard to knowing what has worked and avoiding what has failed. South Kingstown can not rely on the long term memory of the School Committee alone, especially with its ever changing membership. Friday's plan made no reference to the old plan.
2. No means of measuring success was given for any strategy section. What does "will improve 5th grade reading scores" mean? And if you say by "50%" then I am going to ask from what baseline? Every strategy section needed both measurable goals against where we are today. Some of this was in Friday's plan, but the School Committee failed to discuss them.
3. There was no strategy section for the physical plant, that is the building, grounds, gyms, vehicles, lab equipment, etc. How do we use the existing 8 campuses (10 if you include the charter schools) in light of projected significant decline in student enrollment? Do we want to continue to light, heat, cool them as we now do or should we be looking to make long term changes? Friday's plan was for a school system without walls.
4. The "Personalized Learning District-Wide" section is the most concerning part of the plan for me and should be for every family with school age children. Personalized learning is a principle element of the larger Blended Learning education program. The Highlander Institute and its FUSE RI affiliate are the most ardent advocates and for the program and advisors to South Kingstown. This program proposes to create a teacher-proof education system. One where the student's will "own" their education. Where they will "personalize" it to their needs and impulses. Instruction, not teaching, is delivered online. Their guardianship will come from online assessments that the students must take to move ahead. To state the obvious, these students are children. In July, 2015 I wrote a letter (http://tinyurl.com/gvpuqns) to the School Committee about these concerns after having heard personalized and blended learning being advocated by the new High School principal and the then STEM coordinator. Unfortunately, the letter did not bring about a public discussion. Friday's vote creates a policy where impersonal learning is the way forward. This is disgraceful.
Back to the retreat.
A goal of the retreat was to adopt the strategic plan. The Superintendent had done as the School Committee asked and added objectives and measures to the plan's sections and, as mentioned in a previous posting, inundated the members with baseline data. The Superintendent could rightly say that she and her staff had addressed the committee's issues. The members were clearly stunned. Some could not remember if a first reading had been done. Some objected to the plan's changes not having had public comment. Some just wanted the whole thing to end and just vote up or down.
They voted up. A 5 year education plan for the whole school district was approved with less consideration and debate than a family's choices of Brickley's ice creams.
I saw a School Committee membership that had failed to provided the Superintendent with sufficient guidance as to what kinds of baseline data were needed and what kinds of measurable objectives were needed.
I saw a Superintendent who failed to provide the education a board might need to develop and respond to a strategic document. She is the education professional; the School Committee members are layman and laywoman. Smart and ready to learn, without a doubt, but they are education non-professionals needing guidance.
I saw personality conflicts raise to the point of name calling and accusations.
I saw at that moment of crisis no leadership displayed by anyone.
Once the vote was taken I had little heart left to remain for the next agenda item, the School Committee's yearly self-evaluation. I doubted that it would be a sincere learning opportunity for all.