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Kindergarten students shoot hoops with recently installed equipment at Durfee School in Decatur on Tuesday. The school district is developing a strategic plan. 

DECATUR – The Decatur school system has begun the process of creating a new strategic plan that will guide the direction of the district for the next five years. School districts and other organizations use the plans to act as a blueprint, outlining goals and areas of focus. 

The last strategic plan was put in place in 2007 and was meant to last until 2012. Superintendent Paul Fregeau, who began work on July 1, urged the board to make a new strategic plan a top priority.

Here are four things you need to know about the process:

What the goals are 

A strategic planning committee convened for five days in August to create the main goals of the plan, which are:

  • Ensure unique, innovative learning experiences for all students;

  • Ensure a student-focused environment that expands learning beyond the traditional expectations to engage students;

  • Establish a support network that will identify and address students' physical, social/emotional and mental health needs to allow each student to reach their full potential;

  • Attract and retain talented and invested staff by ensuring they feel valued and supported;

  • Create and foster mutually beneficial relationships throughout the community.

Those strategies were reached after an intense several days of meeting by the strategic planning committee, said member Chris DeSanto, a Stephen Decatur Middle School teacher.

“We started off with ‘get the right mindset,’” DeSanto said. “What's best for the students? What are our beliefs? We took those and went into more specifics, what are the goals we want to address?”

Who is taking part 

Volunteers are being recruited now to form five action plan committees, each of which will tackle one of the goals and come up with specific ways to make it a reality, including a cost/benefit analysis. Some of the action plans will be able to be accomplished almost immediately while others are expected to be long-term, over the five years of the strategic plan's life.

Community member Ingrid Smith, who is retired from Archer Daniels Midland Co., is personally trying to recruit friends to be part of the action committees.

“This part is really critical,” Smith said.

Some committee members worried that the timeline was too long, but Smith said she disagreed. The five days the original committee spent working on the goals was needed for them to get to know each other and come to agreement, because they all started from different backgrounds and viewpoints. The action committees will need plenty of time, too, to make sure they come up with realistic plans that will make the goals a reality.

“We know this district has been in a chaotic state the last four or five years,” Smith said. “That truly does have an impact on how these kids are being taught, and how we're dealing with the teaching aspect. We've been looking at that and what we need to do to get all kids learning.”

The school board is working with Lindsey Gunn of The Cambrian Group consultants, with whom Fregeau had worked in his previous district in North Kansas City, Mo.

One example Gunn used, she said, was a district that considers an 80 percent graduation rate to be acceptable, but that means they're writing off 20 percent of kids and that is not acceptable at all.

Another of her concerns is that the action committees really represent a cross-section of the community.

“Traditionally, and not just in this town, you have a certain group of people you always call on (to get involved in things),” she said. “I called some folks I know and I said to them, 'Look, you've got to do this and we've got to try to find younger parents (to volunteer).'”

Interested volunteers can contact Maria Robertson at mrobertson@dps61.org or (217) 362-3017.

Pieces that will be included 

Though at first it seemed everybody had different ideas about what the goals should be, in the end, it turned out the basic ideas were similar, but expressed somewhat differently, DeSanto said, and by putting the students' learning and well-being at the core of all the goals, it came together. Two high school students are part of the original committee and their input was important, he said.

“Not everybody agreed all the time,” he said. “It was a great process. A lot of voices got heard.”

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Kindergarten student Fred Buchen jumps rope during recess at Durfee School. The school district is developing a long-range strategic plan. 

District facility usage is likely to be part of the strategic plan, as the two oldest district buildings, Durfee Magnet School and Johns Hill Magnet School, were targeted by the previous board and administration. Neither is handicap accessible and both require expensive and ongoing maintenance and repairs. That previous plan, now on hold, was to apply for permission to use life/safety funds to replace those buildings with one new building on the grounds of Johns Hill, and combine the two programs.

For more information, visit dps61.org.

What's next 

Action committees will meet over the next several months with a goal of finishing their work around April, and presenting their action plans to the original strategic planning committee. At that point, the original committee will make whatever changes they deem necessary and create a presentation for the Decatur Board of Education. That presentation will be made to the school board in May for a vote and the plan will be implemented.

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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Herald & Review.

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