SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

July 24, 2013

Schools plan a GPS for future learning

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — DANVERS — A new strategic plan will act as the Danvers schools’ road map through 2018.

“As (School Committee member) Connie (Pawlak) says, this is our GPS for the next five years,” Superintendent Lisa Dana said about the plan the School Committee approved this spring.

This is the fifth strategic plan since 1989, according to a letter from the administration to residents. It differs from its most immediate predecessor in that it streamlines the number of goals and shortens the district’s mission statement to mirror that of Danvers High.

“In one sentence we can say what is the priority,” said Dana, of the new mission statement: “Danvers Public Schools is a dynamic community of independent learners dedicated to respect, responsibility, creativity and the pursuit of academic and personal excellence.”

It’s a statement that will be read at the start of School Committee meetings and that has been read aloud every morning to high school students by Assistant Principal Mark Strout, Dana said.

The new plan is also flexible in that it can accommodate new initiatives, such as an emphasis on advanced-placement courses or bullying prevention — both topics that came up within the last five years.

“This document for us over the last five years really became a living document because we used it,” she said. “I would reference it in meetings. I would reference it at graduation. It’s what we use for all of our planning.”

The strategic plan was hammered out over the past year by an administrative council, a steering committee, school committee members and a design team that included retired Newburyport Superintendent Mary Murray, a senior consultant of Future Management Systems Inc., Dana said. Murray brought an outside perspective to the district, drove the planning process forward and got the administration to work together, she said.

The district also held focus groups; collected feedback from high school students, parents, teachers and administrators; and met with representatives of school councils last fall. Much in the new plan was based on a look back at the previous five-year plan, Dana said.

The new plan condenses seven former themes into four: achievement, family and community engagement, human resources management and development, and management and operations.

“The community should see we are more focused. Academic achievement is still the top priority,” Dana said.

The new plan comes with targets for improvement, benchmarks to measure progress and action plans to define the work to be done each year.

“It is more focused, so we reflected on where we were the last five years,” Dana said. “We had seven themes the last time; we now have four themes. So, what we have said is, there were three pieces that we really did work on that we are going to continue, you don’t just drop them, but they are part of what we do now.”

The new plan also specifies success measures and sources of data, listed to show how the district is doing.

School Committee Chairman Eric Crane said the new plan builds on the work of the prior plan and sets the course of the district for the years to come.

“Having a good strategic plan ... prevents you from being reactive instead of proactive,” Crane said. The new plan places less of an emphasis on facilities and technology, given the renovation of the Holten Richmond Middle School and the nearly completed Danvers High School project in the past decade.

“The big projects are out of the way,” said Crane, who added that the district hopes to renovate Smith Elementary School in the coming years.

Dana said the day-to-day challenges will always be there in a school system, but the strategic plan will help sharpen the focus of weekly administrative meetings and professional development days.

“That helps us to structure our time,” Dana said.

The new plan will be used to put together goals for the coming school year, which Dana said will be presented to the School Committee in August.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.