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“Strategic” Churn

The DeKalb Board of Education recently approved a new strategic planning process. I use the word “new” purposefully. In 2011, DeKalb engaged the GSBA (Georgia School Boards Association) to assist in the development of a strategic plan. As Ronald Reagan would say, “There you go again,” because DeKalb has once again asked the GSBA to perform the same task.

You can read all about the 2011 effort online. Click here to read about the community engagement sessions that were held. The district formulated a strategic plan for 2012-2017 entitled the Excellence in Education Plan.

So here we go again. Given the GSBA’s political stances, it is highly unlikely they’ll build in autonomy or innovative governance structures for schools in DeKalb. The GSBA lobbied against the Charter School Amendment that was overwhelmingly passed statewide and in DeKalb. The GSBA routinely advocates against legislative measures that put more power in the hands of parents and taxpayers. Wonder what they think of the charter cluster idea? I say this to illuminate that the entity, tasked with helping DeKalb (yet again) build a strategic plan, holds positions that are at odds with the majority of citizens in our county. So, back to that strategic plan…

The current DeKalb BOE voted to approve this work at their August 5th meeting. The bid review sheet that awarded the contract to GSBA indicated their proposal would cost the taxpayers $300,000. However, the “action item” read to the board and the public listed the cost at $250,000. If one can get past this discrepancy and the political leanings of this organization, one would still wonder, why the need to jettison the plan that the district adopted in 2012. Was the board made aware that there was a fairly new plan? Why wouldn’t they review it, possibly amend/edit it and see to it that it was implemented with fidelity? Why reinvent the wheel; hiring and paying the same entity to do this all over again?

Better yet, perhaps they should read up on “strategic planning”. I wrote this article, Strategic Planning, about it in June. Here’s a paragraph I wrote about what an expert in the field said about strategic planning:

“In his critique of strategic planning, Mintzberg tells us that, “Because analysis is not synthesis, strategic planning is not strategy formulation.” He adds that, “Ultimately, the term `strategic planning’ has proved to be an oxymoron.” … “…..strategy emerges over time as intentions collide with and accommodate a changing reality.” Indeed.”

Even more important, read what I uncovered about the relationship between student achievement and strategic planning.

“…Vicki Basham and Fred Lunenburg found an ‘inconsistent and weak’ association between district participation in strategic planning and student achievement, as measured by standardized test scores in reading, language arts, and mathematics in grades 3, 5, 7, and 10. Basham and Lunenburg wrote in their review of prior research that ‘no other study shows a direct tie-in between strategic planning in school districts and school district performance on standardized achievement tests,’ and they can add their own work to the list.” So, as I stated earlier, I want results and strategic planning does not drive results.”

So why are we paying $250k or $300k (which is it?) for a product we already have that will likely do little to nothing to improve the educational lives of our children?

If we are looking for a mission statement, I suggest we look to Hall County. I had the pleasure of meeting the Hall County Superintendent this summer. He’s a different breed of superintendent – more on that in another blog. He told me that the best organizations have simple mission statements – no more than 5 words – that every employee knows from the custodial staff up to the CEO. Hall County’s mission statement: Character, Competency, Rigor For All.

posted by Nancy Jester in DeKalb County School District,Strategic Planning and have Comment (1)

Strategic Planning

A discredited zeitgeist of the past or a vital document needed for success?

At the DeKalb Board of Education’s last meeting (6/3/13) members discussed the status of their strategic planning process (Item E.1(a)).  AdvancEd/SACS’ required action eleven directs the district to “re-implement its strategic planning team for the purpose of effectively implementing the DeKalb County School District’s Strategic Plan to guide the direction of the district.”

It appears that action eleven assumes the existence of a strategic plan and requires the district to implement it.  It is confusing that the DeKalb Board seems poised to initiate another process to develop a new strategic plan.  Your tax dollars paid for outside consultants, recognized across the states and by SACS, to assist DeKalb in developing the existing plan.  Click here to read about some of the process.  If they are going to go down the road to produce another plan, I hope they’ll look over the copious data and input that has already been collected.  It’s just as relevant and timely as ever and, best of all, it won’t cost the taxpayer another penny. I do worry that once the district selects a permanent superintendent, we’ll find ourselves, once again, developing another strategic plan for/by a new chief and their new team of administrators.  It seems one of the hallmarks of being the head of a school district is the development and imprint of one’s “vision”, separate and apart, from previous administrations.  Speaking of a permanent superintendent, has the board begun a search?

While our board and administrators scurry about, planning and discussing the finer points of strategic planning, I will interject this fact:

Strategic planning is a waste of time and money.  It was an idea that didn’t work well in business and continues to be unhelpful in public education.  It did not produce returns for businesses in the private sector and it has not improved educational outcomes in public schools.

I am a pragmatist.  Call me old-fashioned but I want results, not more talk or “process”.  If we are wasting our time and dollars on a product or project that does not improve the educational lives of our children, I say cut your losses and move beyond this tired and fruitless idea.  You may be wondering why I would say such a thing about “strategic planning”.  Isn’t it a necessary?  Don’t we need this to become better and guide our district?  Simply put, no.  In fact, The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning and Strategic Planning in Education was published in the Harvard Education Review about this very subject.   The article reviews one of the important works on the topic of strategic planning and states, “While Mintzberg’s book focuses primarily on strategic planning in business organizations, it represents an important resource for educators who encounter the education version of strategic planning and assume that this management innovation rests on a solid foundation in the private sector. If strategic planning’s effectiveness in business turns out to be a myth, educators might well wonder about its prospects as a management tool for school improvement.”  The article goes on to share that, “In their 1989 study, Vicki Basham and Fred Lunenburg found an ‘inconsistent and weak’ association between district participation in strategic planning and student achievement, as measured by standardized test scores in reading, language arts, and mathematics in grades 3, 5, 7, and 10. Basham and Lunenburg wrote in their review of prior research that ‘no other study shows a direct tie-in between strategic planning in school districts and school district performance on standardized achievement tests,’ and they can add their own work to the list.” So, as I stated earlier, I want results and strategic planning does not drive results.

In his critique of strategic planning, Mintzberg tells us that, “Because analysis is not synthesis, strategic planning is not strategy formulation.”  He adds that, “Ultimately, the term `strategic planning’ has proved to be an oxymoron.”  It is not that Dr. Mintzberg believes that strategy is some sort of myth.  He simply believes that it wasn’t something that was generated out of the formulaic “process”. (Warning  – anytime the word “process” is used an alarm should sound.  It is overused by today’s bureaucratic class and generally signals more of your tax dollars will be spent with little to no results.)  I appreciate the way an article in Forbes Magazine described how Mintzberg sees strategy – “…..strategy emerges over time as intentions collide with and accommodate a changing reality.”  Indeed.

In my quest to provide value to taxpayers, I’ll end with this.  If DCSS pushes forward with the old plan or develops an entirely new one, I have a money-saving tip for them.  The Harvard Education Review found a “remarkable sameness pervading….plans.”  So do us all a favor and use the banal “composite mission statement” that David Conley of the University of Oregon came up with:

It is the mission of ________ School District to enable all students to become responsible citizens and lifelong learners in a changing global society. This will occur in an environment where diversity is valued and the potential of each student is developed to the fullest, with an emphasis on excellence in all endeavors. This can only occur as a result of a partnership between and among the school district, parents, and other community members and agencies.

Unfortunately, I predict we’ll spend more money on consultants, have more “stakeholder engagement sessions”, learn the latest edu-babble vocabulary and nothing will change.  The consultants and bureaucrats will have once again syphoned money away from children and classrooms perpetuating the hamster wheel of the modern public school district.  Mission Accomplished.

posted by Nancy Jester in DeKalb County School District,Strategic Planning and have Comments (5)