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School board hears strategic plan update

Michael Schneider

The Douglas County School Board held a special meeting Tuesday to hear a presentation of the newly revised strategic plan for the school district.

The 19-member strategic plan revisions committee, headed by John Soderman, assistant superintendent of education, met Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 at the Douglas High School library. The group was made up of the school board, members of the school district administration, teachers and parents.

Tuesday’s meeting, which was sparsely attended by only a few educators and administrative staff, began with comments from Soderman.

“We do this to make sure the plan is contemporary each year,” said Soderman of the annual revision process. “I want to thank the group for two days of lots of work, and I want to commend the group for coming up with a new and improved strategic plan.”

Soderman said the group identified the greatest threat and greatest opportunity to the success of the plan as the same.

“The greatest threat and opportunity was to get the plan out to the community,” said Soderman. “If they support it, great, if not, it could be disaster.”

Soderman said any changes to the plan had to be approved by the entire committee.

“They all had to support the changes, not just say, ‘Oh, it’s OK with me,'” said Soderman.

Not only did the committee members approve of the changes, but many approved and even enjoyed the entire process.

“I hate to say it’s fun being at a school function on a weekend, but it was,” said Scarselli Elementary Principal Betsy Palmer echoing many other committee members.

Soderman said the committee prioritized 12 areas of the strategic plan with curriculum, communication and technology being the most important.

Aside from many areas of the plan which were crossed out because they had been accomplished, most of the changes made to the plan were in the wording of various sentences in the plan or “wordsmithing” as Minden Elementary principal and committee member Klaire Pirtle called it.

One change in the curriculum area of the plan, presented by Pete Shaw, was a decision to let the teachers to decide curriculum rather than parents, business representatives and community members as it had been in the past.

“We decided to let the teachers decide how to do it,” said Shaw. “Parents will still have some input. Committees are not being left out, there just not being included in the actual making of curriculum.”

Another change to the curriculum involved no longer requiring students to achieve an 85 percent mastery of achievement-level exams before progressing to the next level of exam. Mastery levels will now be determined following the piloting of the tests.

“To pick an arbitrary test score before we developed the test to us was not ideal,” said Shaw.

Laura Austin, a teacher at Douglas High School and member of the committee, presented the communications revisions. Soderman said communications were much more important to the committee this year than in the past, jumping from the seventh most important strategy in the plan to the second.

“Every aspect of this plan is in its early stages,” said Austin. “We still have much to do.”

She said two action steps were added to the beginning of the communications plan. Austin said a group will be formed to improve internal communication involving the various stakeholders. She said this will be a broad base group made up of parents and teachers.

“Internal communication must increase,” said Austin.

As well as trying to improve internal communication, the committee also addressed external communication. Austin said Soderman will oversee a group whose purpose is to improve external communication.

Cindi Wells, committee member in charge of presenting the revisions to the technology strategy, said that area of the plan has really gone through major changes since the inception of the strategic plan.

Wells said the main focus of this strategy is to get computers in the classroom. Instead of putting cable at schools with data, television and phone lines as funds allow, data cable to fully network classrooms is the priority, starting with schools who serve students closest to graduation.

“We’re going to have the Internet,” said Wells. “It’s a ways away, but it’s going to be coming.”

The rest of the revisions to the master plan, in order of forth most important to twelfth, were program assessment, careers, families, cultural, environment and world issues, graduation, the newly-created fine arts portion of the plan, facilities, service learning, and hiring.

Although hiring was last on the list, Debra Chappell, who presented the hiring revisions, made it clear that hiring was not a low priority of the district.

“Hiring is the corner stone of the district,” said Chappell. “It’s been done so well it became our smallest priority. There’s so little left to do it dropped to the bottom.”

One area of change was to recruiting strategies and hiring pools from which prospective employees will be taken.

Prospective employees will be wooed by brochures from the Chamber of Commerce, Nevada Commission on Tourism, School District materials, videos, and other means.

“Trying to attract applicants will be more important and more competitive in the future,” said Chappell.

When the presentation was over, Superintendent Pendery Clark spoke to the committee.

“I’m always amazed with the committee,” said Clark. “You can’t believe how appreciative we are of the committee. It’s really an outstanding group, and the district is in your debt. We’ll make sure more of those items say “Accomplished” after them next year.”

“Good stuff,” said school board member Randy Wallstrum.

“Thanks for all your hard work,” said board member Diane McCoy who was unable to attend this year’s revisions. “I really did miss it.”

“I’m really impressed with all this input,” said board member Michele Lewis. “It’s so rewarding to see this actually used.”

Board member David Brady, who was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting, gave his approval for the revisions in a letter thanking the committee.