School district begins strategic planning process
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, November 2006) A crowd of about 200 residents and school district staff at a community forum listened as Cleveland Municipal School District Chief Executive Officer Dr. Eugene Sanders shared his vision of Cleveland Municipal School District becoming one of the premier school districts in the nation. Those in attendance at the October 17th Community Forum then broke into groups to offer their input into the school district’s strategic planning process.
The Cudell forum was the first of four forums scheduled in October to gather community input to aid with the formation of a strategic plan for the school district. Dr. Sanders noted that in the first 100 days of his tenure the school district had identified and secured key staff members and streamlined the organization to make it more responsive to constituents or customers of the district such as teachers, internal and support staff, corporate community, elected officials, parents and students. Sanders emphasized that the district’s primary customers were the students. “What we should be asking on a daily basis is are we making decisions that are in the best interests of our students?” said Sanders.
“The goal of the strategic planning process”, said Sanders, “is to set in place a series of aggressive actions and activities that would help the school system become a premier school district.” Sanders said already the district had begun the process of “breaking down data by individual schools, grades, classrooms and down to the individual student level to “customize the learning experience for each individual child.” Sanders said the process includes a series of pre-assessments of each child in each testing area. This effort to individualize and customize the learning experience would help the district to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each child so the district could target tutoring initiatives to areas where a student needed the most help. This initiative, said Sanders, is designed to help the district reach its goal of a continuous improvement district by the end of this school year.
A series of community forums in August helped the district to formulate safety and security action steps to help make the district safer and more secure for students. Sanders urged community members to use the district’s hotline to report safety concerns and noted that the district would have “zero tolerance for any activity going on in or around our schools that takes away from the educational environment.” Sanders said this district policy would “make sure that 5 or 10 students don’t disrupt the learning environment for 1,000 students.” Sanders promised the district would continue to work to make the educational environment safer for all students. “We can’t achieve academic goals if safety and security becomes an issue,” he said.
Five strategic planning groups formed from the crowd began listing ideas for the strategic plan.
In the area of academics top recommendations included creating more quality after school programs that provide both academic and extra curricular activities. The after school programs should include tutoring, social services and counseling, said group members.
Another recommendation was for smaller class sizes and an improved learning environment. A teacher, who has taught in a half dozen different Cleveland schools, noted all the school he taught in had one common feature “too much noise.” The noise in the school buildings, he said, creates an environment in which it is hard to teach.
Another suggestion was to assure that the right teachers were assigned to the right programs. For example, a teachers assigned to a Montessori school should be those trained in the Montessori teaching methods, or a long term second grade teacher should not be reassigned to teaching eighth grade. The group suggested classroom teachers make use of community and parent support and involvement to help them out and provide better internships other opportunities for students.
A group formed to address the issue of a student dress code recommended that some type of dress code or school uniform requirement be enforced throughout the school district. In forming this requirement the district should seek input from the community and from students and explore how such a code would be enforced. The group also recommended district staff be required to adhere to standards in their attire so they could serve as role models for students.
The safety and security group recommended increased use of technology to secure the doors of the school buildings. They also recommended each school have a security guard, cameras and motion detectors. Group members felt that more quality after school community enrichment programs were necessary so students of working parents would have a safe place to go after school. Another security measure recommended by the group was that all persons entering a school building – students, staff and visitors—have some form of identification.
The facilities group felt clean buildings would help students stay focused on academic and school activities. The group also discussed creating high performance and green buildings that would take less energy to run. They recommended that each school include some green space.
Other recommendations included more parent participation at all levels, more multicultural programs and opening schools at all hours so students would have a place to go.
In line with Sanders call for students to be given priority in district decision-making, community members called for custodial and bus driver contracts to be rewritten to make it easier for schools to stay open in the evenings for after school activities. Parents called for evening open houses, noting the difficulty daytime open houses posed for working parents and the impracticality of visiting teachers during the school day when they were teaching classes.
One community member asked CEO Sanders to address the appointment of a new head of the Bilingual Multi-Cultural Program. She said the office is an important link to the school system for parents who speak little English. Sanders promised to work to assure the post is filled.
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