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The Decatur school board has its strategic plan. Now, how to execute it?
EDUCATION

The Decatur school board has its strategic plan. Now, how to execute it?

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DECATUR — Decatur School District leaders on Thursday weighed how to implement their long-awaited strategic plan and whether to combine some district buildings during a lengthy work session designed to give direction to Superintendent Paul Fregeau as he crafts their next steps. 

No action was taken during the special meeting. Lindsey Gunn, senior associate of The Cambrian Group, who is leading the board through the strategic plan process, guided the first part of the discussion as the board and Fregeau talked about which elements of the five-year plan to prioritize for the first year. Fregeau likely will present the first-year plan to the board at its July 10 meeting.

The school board approved the sweeping strategic plan in May after months of work that included feedback from volunteers and community members. The last strategic plan was put in place in 2007 and was meant to last until 2012. Fregeau, who began work on July 1, urged the board to make a new strategic plan a top priority.

Going forward, Gunn said the board's role is not to lay out specific steps to accomplish the goals; instead it is to provide the direction and vision. It's Fregeau and his team's responsibility to implement the action and to report their progress.

“You have to be game wardens,” Gunn said. “There will be criticisms, but you can't let the system be thrown off-course.”

He also suggested that Fregeau and his team create a Power Point or other visual aid along with a scripted presentation that would allow board members to speak to service clubs like Rotary and Kiwanis about the district's direction, but with a consistent message.

One concern, voiced by board Vice President Beth Nolan, was that some of the statements in the strategic plan sound like things the district is already doing.

“How can the board ensure it's not business as usual if we're not involved in the action plan?” she said.

Gunn said the board should, when hearing progress reports from administrators charged with implementing the plan, ask for specific evidence that the action steps are different from what is being done now.

“Are we doing what we said we're going to do?” he said. “Where's the evidence?”

One of the first parts of the plan to focus on, Fregeau told the board, is student well-being: primarily safety, social and emotional health, and academic success. During the first part of the coming school year, the district can gather information that will create a baseline of student well-being, to provide a measure of whether the action plan is making a difference.

Discussion moved on from the strategic plan to facilities usage. Fregeau and his executive committee came up with some suggestions for better use of the district buildings. The first item on his list was to close and demolish the Johns Hill Magnet School building, the district's oldest and most expensive to maintain. The group also suggested combining sixth, seventh and eighth grades into one building; create more space for preschool; combine Garfield and Enterprise Montessori programs into one building; install air conditioning in district schools that don't have it; and create a single high school.

Board member Courtney Carson objected to the concept of having just one high school. He said that has come up in the past and the community is against the idea. He also said it wouldn't be safe for students.

“Some people can't go to the west side without getting shot at or beaten up,” said Carson, who works closely with troubled youth. “I'm just being honest here.”

Board member Beth Creighton said that maybe having all middle school students together during those years, and then sending them to one high school together, would ease the tensions that underlie the violence Carson spoke of. He shook his head in response.

Decreasing the number of buildings in the district would “right-size” the district, said board member Kendall Briscoe. With 25 buildings and only 8,800 students, counting preschool, resources are spread too thin and employees, such as nurses and social workers, have to travel between buildings. Fewer buildings would concentrate the district resources and better serve the community, she said.

No decisions are immediately expected on building utilization, either. Fregeau will prepare a recommendation after further meetings with his executive committee.

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter

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