It’s been a little over two years since a group of nine community members and school administrators got together in Ridgefield, Connecticut, to formulate what’s known as the Five-Year Strategic Plan, an ambitious blueprint for a multi-initiative plan for raising the level of education in the Katonah-Lewisboro School District.
In an inform-and-update meeting, held on Thursday, September 27, the board of education and the public had an opportunity to apprise themselves of the status of the various initiatives: ones that have either already been implemented, are currently taking off the ground or, are in the pipeline.
Board trustee Warren Schloat along with deputy superintendent Karen Benedict presented the audience with a progress report on the projects.
Of the proposed 19 Actions Plans slated for initiation and completion during the first year, nine have been successfully “integrated into the day-to-day workings of the school district” and 10 are presently in the launch phase.
As for a slew of 21 measures, projected to commence in the second year of the plan, nine are expected to start in the 2008-2009 school year. As for the remaining 12, “we’re not prepared to implement this year,” said Dr. Benedict, reason being, there’s a burden of a carryover from last year.
All of these were put forth before the board, in October 2006, with a price-tag of $140,000 and were approved as part of the school budget in May, this year.
In all, there are 72 Actions Plan. They’re expected to be put into effect in a phased manner over the course of the next three years. “I think it’s the plans that involved students that were most significant. There has been a wonderful outcome for them,” said Dr. Benedict.
One of the key successes has been the setting up of a K-8 Student Buddy System that builds a bridge of partnership between younger and older kids, with a view to facilitating their transition from elementary to middle school. To that end, in the spring of 2006, a bunch of 500 fifth and seventh-graders swapped letters of introduction with each other.
The showcasing of students’ achievements and performances before the board has also been a winner. “How this works is that we get in touch with the principals and they brief us about the accomplishments of groups of students or individual students for that matter. And we give them an opportunity to participate in the board meetings,” she explained.
“[This way], the kids get to be on the board. It makes the board friendly and accessible to them. We shouldn’t walk away from [this initiative]. That’d be a terrible, terrible mistake,” said Michael Gordon, a trustee.
Just as the board meetings of giant corporations like Apple, General Motors, Coca-Cola, etc., aren’t complete without a display of their top-of-the-line products, on a similar token, school boards should take pride in highlighting their products, who’re the children, Mr. Gordon added emphatically.
A burgeoning collaboration with the public access television station has enabled the district to broadcast a growing number of the school events to the community. “We’ve been able to put more and more of the schools’ programs on public access television in 2006,” Dr. Benedict said.
Yet, another commendable enterprise has been the creation of a course in television production at the high school level, through which students and teachers get to be involved in the business of producing their very own programs.
While Benedict is “pleased” with the “intended outcome of the Strategic Planning,” it’s some of the “unplanned” plans that have “exceeded her level of expectation.”
The English department’s writing program is a case in point—a program that wasn’t embodied in the Strategic Plan, but came about as an accidental offshoot of the plan.
Explaining why some of the Actions Plans have moved at a more sluggish pace than the others, Mr. Schloat said, “To launch, each Action Plan requires a project leader and a time commitment from that [individual]. Our administrators are already working at full-capacity administrating. So, [bringing on additional projects] creates waves.”
Dr. Benedict says that it’s not the Action Plans in themselves that are hard to bring to fruition, but rather the “management of change” that poses a bigger challenge.
“Action Plans, [in order] to be successful, require change. [And] change takes time. For real change, you need buy-in by the people affected by the change—the classroom teacher, the support staff, and the administrators. Change has its own clock. Just because we say something is going to happen in [the first year] doesn’t mean it happens in a year,” said Mr. Schloat, speaking at the meeting.
For instance, Differentiated Instruction, a targeted teaching method that is tailor made to a student’s need, is proving to be an uphill task. Though it’s been in existence for over eight years now, getting all teachers conversant with this method hasn’t been easy.