In yesterday’s weekly update to all the families in the district, GPS Superintendent Christine DeBarge says the following:
The Strategic Plan will be presented to the School Committee for a vote on June 14th. We are very excited to come to the final steps in creating the Strategic Plan.
Unfortunately, there was no link to the plan included in the update for families or any other members of the community to be able to see the plan ahead of the vote.
I tracked down the strategic plan that is being proposed, finding it in the meeting materials posted for the June 14 School Committee meeting.
If you (like me, I will admit) had forgotten, this plan is the output of the task force that The Management Solution (the consultancy that GPS uses for a bunch of stuff) ran for the district. This task force kicked off last fall and was composed of representatives from the GPS administration, teachers, students, families, the city government, and the City Council. They gathered a bunch of data and ran a SCOT1 analysis with these participants. Using that, they then ran the community survey and focus groups in the spring of this year.
Out of this work, the task force formulated “a streamlined mission statement” and several “strategic areas of focus.” I say “several” here because while the document repeatedly references four strategic areas of focus, as far as I can tell it only ever lists three such areas.
The updated mission statement they are proposing is “The Greenfield Public School District is a place where every child is supported on their path to success.”
The strategic focus areas are:
- Curriculum & Instruction
- Communications & Outreach
Then the plan lays out an overarching goal and a set of SMART2 objectives for each of the focus areas:
- For Curriculum and Instruction, the overarching goal is “Provide Greenfield Public School students with high-quality instructional programs geared to meet the needs of all students and ensure their success.”
- Communications and Outreach: “The Greenfield Public schools will build and maintain strong relationships through communication and outreach within the schools and greater community.”
- Operations: “Overarching Goal: Ensure we have a welcoming environment for students to learn.”
The plan sets multiple objectives for each focus area and specifies a timeframe for every objective. Each objective has a subset of actions, with owners and success criteria assigned to every action.
This plan is the sort of thing one might expect from an external consultancy—quite structured and specific. I imagine TMS has a fairly pre-baked process and structure putting something like this together; that is, after all, a big part of the reason one hires consultants.
For example, the first objective for the Curriculum & Instruction focus area is “By September 2023, create a data cycle review process to analyze student growth and achievement.”
The specific actions for this objective are:
- Identify and determine data points and the review cycle.
- Review the data points and reviewcycleandtheiruse for improving instructional practices in the general education setting.
The plan assigns this action to the Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, the Superintendent, the school principals, and teachers, and then provides these benchmarks:
- By October 2023, the first round of data will be collected and reviewed at collaboration or faculty meetings.
- Data protocols will be used annually to review the data at least 3x per year (October, February, and June).
While I am not going to detail them all out here, this focus area (Curriculum & Instruction) alone has 4 objectives mapped out through 2028 and a total of 13 sub-actions under those objectives.
All three (again, what happened to number four?) strategic areas of focus follow this structure and are broken down in the same way.
This structure seems fine and is pretty clear and easy to understand. That said, I do wonder about the district’s ability to attend to this plan over time at the level of detail it requires. I would be willing to bet that if we cross-referenced action items by who’s responsible for them, we would see a lot of stuff piling up on the same groups of people repeatedly. I will admit, however, that I have not actually gone through and done this, so I could be wrong here.
Another analysis that I think would be worth doing is to take a close look at the “Benchmarks of Success” that the plan lays out for each objective’s actions. Even a quick scan through them reveals many that are more about a specific thing being delivered rather than whether the thing delivered actually meets the need or addresses the problem. This sort of approach can easily become a checkbox exercise if the people doing it are overburdened and short on time.
I also wonder about the approach of having multiple people attached to each of these actions but not specifying who is actually on the hook for delivering it. I hope that there is a layer of detail that didn’t make it into this presentation format, that somewhere there is a something like a RACI3 matrix. Otherwise, I would be concerned about the risk that everyone thinks someone else is responsible for a deliverable and no one actually delivering it.
More broadly, my big question for the School Committee and the superintendent is this: If we agree that this strategic plan is pointing us in the direction we want to go as a district, what will that actual implementation look like? What structures and supports will all the people in the “Person(s) Responsible” boxes for all of the actions have? What will the reporting cadences be? How will we know whether the actions are on track to meet the objectives, or what escalations, reprioritizations, and adjustments will need to be made if they are not?
As an apparent addendum to the strategic plan, TMS also provides a presentation of 2019, 2021, and 2022 MCAS data and analysis “for consideration.” Leaving aside for now the question of the merits of the MCAS and standardized testing in general, the trend in the data presented here is pretty clear. Across the board, Greenfield’s scores are getting worse, and at faster rates than those of districts across the rest of the state.
They also provide a data analysis of local MAP testing and graduation rates, the results of both of which paint a more mixed picture than the MCAS results. There is also reporting and analysis on curriculum, attendance, and disciplinary data across the GPS district. All of this data reporting and analysis runs for 37 pages; I am not going to try to dig into it any further here, but it is worth taking a look at if you have the time.
The next 16 pages of TMS’s report cover the results and analysis of the focus groups that were run in the spring, as well as the district survey and and equity survey of the members of the strategic planning task force (only 11 of 26 responded to this one, apparently).
On the district survey, the top strength identified was “Food service department,” with “Staff and teachers listen to questions and concerns” a close second.
The top challenges were:
- Finding and retaining staff
- Inadequate funding for schools
- Competitive salaries
The main takeaways from this survey are that a lot of the challenges relate to funding, as well as the configuration of the schools. No big surprises there.
And here is TMS’s summary:
All of the data presented in this report point to three major areas needing attention over the next 3-5 years in order to improve student outcomes: (1) attention to academics, (2) attention to other factors impacting favorable outcomes (attendance/engagement, mental health, and behavioral issues), and the (3) funding necessary to support improved outcomes.
The TMS project lead for this strategic planning process was Judith Houle. She’s an SVP at TMS and served as the interim superintendent in Greenfield while the district searched for a new super following Jordana Harper’s departure a few years ago.