New PCSD strategic plan draws a map for improvement
In the wake of its failed bond election in November, the Park City School District was mired in turmoil.
But Phil Kaplan, a member of the Board of Education, saw an opportunity. He helped organize a strategic planning committee made up of district employees and community members to reevaluate how the district operates as an organization.
"It was great timing and a great set up because the community was ready to hear something different," he said, "and the people inside, at all levels, were ready to hear something different."
Months later, Kaplan and Anne Futch, the committee’s co-chairs, say the group’s work has paid dividends. It held meetings throughout the school year, gathering input from community and teacher surveys and feedback sessions, which led to a strong conclusion: There are several areas in which the district can improve.
One of the largest realizations the group discovered was that the district is not nimble enough to adapt to the type of constant change that has become a staple of education in the 21st century. Kaplan pointed to the bond election and modifications to the elementary-level reading program as examples of the district’s rigidity.
"The current administration has tried to do a lot of things very quickly, but the institution didn’t have the capacity to absorb the changes," he said. "Hence, we’ve seen a lot of outcry over things, which is essentially a symptom of this root cause, the root cause being we didn’t have the ability to manage a large-scale change through the depth and the breadth of the organization."
The committee has asked district leaders to implement principles of change management, an approach that enables organizations to effectively deal with policy shifts. Kaplan said it requires school administration to alter its leadership style, engaging teachers earlier about new ideas and engendering school- and district-wide collaboration.
Futch referred to it as putting decisions "through a circular process that everyone understands."
That allows everyone, right down to the teachers, to feel like they have a say and a stake in changes, such as the new reading plan, Kaplan said.
Another crucial lesson is that the district must focus on the core things it can do really well. Surveys revealed that teachers are feeling the weight of the district and the state continually asking them to do more. They believe they’d be much more effective if they were allowed to simply do what they do best — teach. Kaplan said the district can make big strides if it can implement a similar philosophy.
"We have to pick, we have to make some choices," he said. "And that’s hard because that means saying ‘No’ to people who are willing and able."
Kaplan and Futch have been encouraged by how well school leaders have received the committee’s feedback. They are recommending the committee remain intact to ensure the district makes the necessary changes and that the strategic plan becomes a "living" document. That would be in stark contrast to the previous strategic plan, which was compiled in 2009-2010, then "sat on a shelf," Kaplan said.
"Understanding that things were difficult this past year on a number of fronts," he said, "I think there’s a big chunk of people who hear it loud and clear that a change has to happen in the way we do business."
Futch said the strategic plan, and continually updating it, will undoubtedly make the district better.
"We really are a good school district," she said. "Our challenge is going from good to great. We have a wonderful opportunity to be great. We have the makings for a school district, but it takes effort to get there. It doesn’t just happen."
Meeting minutes and other information about the strategic planning committee, such as its community and teacher surveys and feedback sessions, can be found by visiting the district’s website, pcschools.us, and clicking the "District" tab, then "Strategic Planning" link.
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