The Plainedge School District is in the process of assembling a planning team to establish a new set of district-wide goals and priorities for the next five years. This will be the district's second strategic plan since it adopted the planning process in 1993.
Mark Nocero, strategic planning coordinator of the Plainedge School District, said he is hopeful the district and its Core Planning Team will improve on the process of strategic planning implemented in 1993.
Using a system of shared decision making where administrators, faculty, staff and other community members work together to determine the district's priorities, the district will put together teams of people over the next year to plan and provide strategies for accomplishing its goals.
The first step is to assemble thirty people including Superintendent Gene Grasso, school administrators, teachers, school staff, parents, students, representatives from the business community and higher education, and other Plainedge residents, who will meet from Jan. 22 - Jan. 24 to develop a set of plans and objectives for the district. The team will be responsible for establishing the district's core values, mission statement, objectives and strategies for implementing them.
"For the most part it will be a microcosm of the Plainedge school community, different people with different opinions," said the strategic planning coordinator, Mark Nocero. "We don't want like-minds together, we want diverse, opposing viewpoints."
Nocero anticipates the team will work long hours during the three day workshop, meeting around 8 a.m. until 10 or 11 p.m. Each of the team's members will have been chosen by his or her peers, he added. For example, the PTA will choose its representatives, while teachers will choose their own.
One of the first tasks the team will tackle is the drafting of the core values or belief statements. This will describe what the district stands for. The mission statement will describe the team's vision of the district's future, while the strategic objectives will define what the team wants students to achieve by the end of the five year period. It will also create strategies for what the district will do in order to help its children achieve those objectives.
Nocero noted that the core planning team must always keep state mandates and standards, as well as district policies in mind when creating its plans. The process also leaves room for adjustment along the way, since some plans conceived by the team end up not being feasible.
"It's not carved in stone - things change or something comes down from the state - we have to make our mid-course adjustments - so it's revised, it's reviewed each year, sometimes twice a year," added Nocero.
After the core planning team has done its initial part, action planning teams are assigned to each of the strategies to develop plans for their implementation. Those plans will then be reviewed by the core planning team and if they meet the district's criteria, the plans are then sent to the board of education for final approval. The superintendent will then be responsible for overseeing the plan's implementation, which will be spread out over a five year period.
According to Mark Nocero, the strategic planning coordinator, the purpose of the strategic planning process is not to improve the current Plainedge school system, but to transform it.
"It's school transformation - it's not school improvement," he said. "Why would you improve a system that's 150 years old; it's obsolete."
He also believes that by including staff, faculty and community members in an effort to create a long-term vision, as well as concrete plans on how to achieve its goals, the district distinguishes itself from others.
"Schools don't always look at the long-term when they do their planning," he said. "A lot of times they see how much money they have, what that year's priorities are and they budget for this year's priorities. What we're saying is, you have to look ahead. You have to look at your long-term vision and actually create it."
Nocero said that new state standards and the increasing number of charter schools are just a couple of indications of the state's failing public school system. He added that he doesn't believe students are being properly prepared for the business community or society on the whole.
Meanwhile, Nocero said despite the fact that the district is still new to the strategic planning process, he believes it has given those in the district a common focus and helped maintain some unity in the midst of the two-year long labor dispute between the teachers' union and the board of education.
"The only thing that I have found that has held all the factions together was this process; all constituents supported the plan through it all ," he said, adding that he is hopeful about the district's future now that the dispute is settled. "I think right now the window is open to create a new plan. The contract is settled and everybody wants to move forward for the kids."
The next five years will also give the district and all those who work on the various planning teams to improve on the process and learn from the mistakes made the first time around, according to Nocero.
"In reviewing the work of the last five years, we see accomplishments as well as unfinished work; successes and failure. The process creates satisfaction and frustration, camaraderie and animosity. Now is the time to celebrate our successes, learn from our mistakes and commit to our future," said Nocero, adding that he looks at the last five years as practice.
Any resident who would be available for meetings approximately once a week for three to four months is invited to take part in the strategic planning process by participating on an action team. To receive an action team application, or for more information about strategic planning, call Mark Nocero at Plainedge High School, 797-4454.