The Davis school board held a workshop Thursday to review a proposed five-year strategic plan, prepared over the past several months by a committee of 26 community members, with help from several dozen others who participated on issue-oriented “action teams.”
After hearing a presentation by the Strategic Planning Committee and related action team members, the school board trustees asked several questions, and expressed little in the way of criticism or dissatisfaction with the committee’s recommendations.
The plan will come back before the school board at Thursday’s meeting to be considered for formal approval.
This was the first time in more than 15 years that the board has considered a broadly focused, districtwide planning document prepared by a community-based task force. The recommendations — which consist of several identified goals, with specific actions recommended for specific years (but without identifying dollar figures) — broke down into four major areas.
School climate coordinator Kate Snow was one of several speakers to address the strategic plan’s recommendations for professional growth and development, and she spoke of the need to focus on the “social and emotional intelligence” of students.
“I think what we’re trying to capture is our understanding of how students participate in the education system — can we support them as they develop as young humans. … Can we build their own abilities to interact with each other and with society in ways that are productive and are an acknowledged piece of the education system?”
Trustee Tim Taylor remarked that when he read the report, he wasn’t entirely sure what the term “social and emotional intelligence” meant. Superintendent Winfred Roberson respondent, “We are training our professionals” to have a better awareness that “we are developing whole children, and make sure that our system trains our professionals how to meet students’ social and emotional needs as well (as academic needs).”
Joshua Newman, a community member who participated in plan’s preparation, said the plan recommends that the school district “add (work) days for professional development” in this regard, though not in the plan’s first year. Bill Calhoun, a retired teacher who also was a member of the Strategic Planning Committee, urged the board to take advantage of community resources, saying, “My concern has always been that we haven’t made use … of volunteers, people who have retired and would volunteer their time” in this regard.
Another focus was on facilities, with recommendations that ranged from extending wireless coverage at schools to safety and signage improvements at school entrances, and optimizing interior learning spaces and exterior communal areas.
Roberson said the point of extending wireless is not simply to provide the kind of wireless access that has existed in local coffee shops for years. “We want (wireless) to support student achievement” in a more strategic way, the superintendent said, adding that there are people in the community who are prepared to assist with the implementation of this goal. Chuck Rairdan, a member of the Strategic Planning Committee, said he believes “there is a multiplier effect for facilities and technology” in terms of promoting student achievement.
Teacher Cathy Haskell and Associate Superintendent Clark Bryant addressed a set of goals relating to the Common Core academic standards and the new state system of online standardized tests, which will be given a field test this spring.
“The (online) test is a very different test than what we have seen before,” Haskell advised. “It’s not your normal ‘bubble test,’ ” with students filling in a bubble with a pencil to pick the correct answer to a multiple-choice question. “To do well on the new tests, students will need to demonstrate their thinking skills,” Haskell advised, “and our instruction has to change (as a result); our interim assessments have to change.”
She added that the Common Core standards don’t come with a curriculum, so the district will need to adapt and develop as a result, and teachers also will “have to be trained how to take the data” that emerges from student tests, and use that information “to see what was working and what wasn’t” in classroom lessons.
Bryant added that the district needs to develop consistency across school sites as the new standards and testing systems are implemented, “so the expectations of students are clearly identified,” in addition to targeting which students need additional support.
Davis High Vice Principal Tom McHale spoke about the plan’s recommendations to develop a system to help students address their academic, social and personal goals. Trustee Nancy Peterson observed that among the plan’s various recommendations, “this one lights up as really dealing with our (student) subgroups that are not doing as well and focusing on efforts” to assist them.
Koren Motekaitis, who participated in the preparation of the plan, said the document basically provides “guiding principles and strategies” that the school board can reference “to base the decisions that they have to make” in the next five years. “One of the important pieces of the plan is that every student matters,” she said. “Another important piece is the importance of creating lifelong learners.”
Trustee Taylor remarked that there is only a week between the board’s review of the strategic plan and the scheduled adoption date. Trustee Susan Lovenburg noted that the plan has been prepared with a very open process that included many meetings that the public had an opportunity to attend.
The adoption of the plan later this week is also keyed to the school district’s budget process, and the state’s implementation of the new online testing system.
— Reach Jeff Hudson at email@example.com or 530-747-8055.