Prism assists school districts to set up an annual strategic planning process designed to ensure a clear focus on priorities and the optimal allocation of resources at both the district and individual school level. Designed to fit neatly into the annual district calendar, the planning process is intentional, information-driven and repeatable. First, the district identifies its mission, performance targets, priorities and long-term strategies. In the context of that district-wide plan, individual schools develop improvement plans that include building-specific performance targets, activities and action plans. Because of the efficiency created by Sean Brady’s facilitation and Prism’s Group Decision Support System™, the district plan is usually created in just two days and each building plan in just one day.
The planning process
The District team begins by reviewing three- to five-year performance trends on all key academic indicators.
They then set performance targets. This is a two-step process. First, they select a set of measures to assess performance of the entire K to 12 system. Then, for each measure, they set three- or five-year targets.
With the targets set, the district team quickly identifies the key performance gaps they need to close. They now generate a research plan: a set of key questions that, if answered well, will give them the information that they need to articulate strategies to close their performance gaps. The presentation of research findings is designed to seed the district team’s strategy development by answering three questions:
- What does the research say?
- So what does it have to do with our school district?
- Now what do we need to do to improve student performance?
Armed with this information, the district team completes and then prioritizes a strength, weakness, opportunity and threat analysis (SWOT). With this as a rich platform, they launch into strategy development. Strategies clearly answer the question: What do we need to do to achieve our mission and performance targets?
Once they agree to the set of strategies, the group uses Prism’s Group Decision Support System™ to create a strategic profile. Voting results are displayed in a two-dimensional scatter diagram, which is basically a picture of the entire school system at a point in time. Simple interpretation of this strategic profile helps to distinguish between high- and low-leverage strategies — and therefore to identify immediate priorities. The planning team does not consider all strategies to be equal and does target limited resources at opportunities providing the “greatest bang for the buck.”
For example, see Whitney Point’s strategic profile. This two-dimensional scatter diagram displays how the district team assessed 13 strategies. The vertical axis indicates their relative importance; the horizontal axis indicates their current performance; old strategies are displayed in squares and new strategies, in circles.
The profile interpretation guide helps the team to identify district priorities. Strategies #13, #6 and #1 dominate the remaining 10 strategies in importance and they are also underperforming. These very important, under-performing strategies are priorities: immediate, high-leverage opportunities that are ripe for resources and attention.
As a final check, the district team uses Prism’s Group Decision Support System™ to facilitate the consensus process and ensure final, explicit support for the academic improvement plan.
The deliverable is a one-page district plan that becomes
- The primary communication vehicle with all district stakeholders: it can be presented at board meetings, PTA meetings, faculty meetings, Rotary club meetings, etc.
- A powerful management tool for the administration and board to identify, track, monitor and update the district priorities so that they may allocate resources optimally.
- With the district plan as context, school teams produce their own succinct plan with performance targets, key activities, and detailed action plans including specifically who will do what by when with what resources.
Repeating the planning cycle annually
These plans do not belong on a shelf. The entire planning cycle should be repeated annually at the district and school level. Performance targets should be modified and updated. Strategies should be refreshed, modified or replaced. Building action plans should be reinvigorated.
For a more detailed description of this planning process, including sample district and school plans, please click on the case study link below.
Sample case study: District and School Improvement Planning with Prism