ACPS Close to Finalizing New Strategic Plan

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The drawn-out, interactive process of devising a new strategic plan for the Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) could soon be at an end, and with its adoption, the citys system of 17 schools will have a set of goals to which students and teachers can aspire.

The School Board unveiled the plan in September 2008, and since setting the wheels in motion immediately thereafter by forming a 55-member strategic planning team, there have been six retreat meetings to discuss the ways in which the school system will move forward.

Those goals included conducting a comprehensive analysis of the academic needs of each and every student, an effort to bridge the achievement gap between minority students and white students and looking into implementing the International Baccalaureate program at certain schools by 2011.
The strategic plan to realize those and other goals is essentially a business plan from which the school will operate over the next several years.

However, even though the School Board is planning to vote on adopting the strategic plan during their March 19 meeting, the plan is, by nature, an evolving and adapting plan, Assistant Superintendent John Porter said.

Porter co-chaired the strategic planning committee with School Board Vice Chair Sheryl Gorsuch.
Most recently, at the February 12 work session and last scheduled meeting in the timeline, the strategic planning committee members opted out of an intended town hall-style forum that had been scheduled for February 21.

Instead, there will be an online forum for community feedback on the developments in the strategic plan, Porter said.

The thinking is that they can reach out to more people online, ACPS spokesperson Amy Carlini said.
Beginning March 2, there will be a video on the school systems website and ACPS-TV (Channel 71) that people can watch and respond to, Carlini said. The video will run until March 9 and overlaps with a public hearing on the strategic plan at the School Boards March 5 meeting.

Following that last period of public input and feedback, the board will hold a vote to approve the strategic plan, Gorsuch said.

Once they adopt the strategic planning effort to this point, then it becomes the staffs responsibility to develop the tactics to implement the plan, Porter said. At that point, [the strategic plan] becomes our marching orders.

To streamline the process and dialogue as it developed within the 50-plus-member team, ACPS hired an outside firm, Plexus Consulting Group of Washington, D.C., to facilitate the six primary meetings.
According to Crystal Olguin, a Plexus consultant who worked on the ACPS project, the process with ACPS was slower and more complicated than with many of the companys other customers. Whereas a small group or association may take a day, ACPS took up several Saturdays over many weeks.
However, the large numbers involved allowed for more diversity in contributions to the discussion, making it clear that ACPS really wanted to figure out the best way to improve the school system, Olguin said, adding that it was equally rewarding for the consultants to work on the plan.

Its been a long process but its been one that allowed us to get a lot of community input and have a lot of thoughtful conversations regarding the future of the school district, Gorsuch said.
Overall, ACPS has approached the strategic plan very differently than many school systems do, which she feels will reflect positively in the resulting plan.

A lot of school divisions across the country often have left the strategic planning up to the superintendent and the staff, Gorsuch said. I think our process of having it board-driven and involving all the stakeholders in our community is going to give us a lot more powerful, meaningful document.
Should things continue to progress in this way, Gorsuch sees the strategic plan changing how ACPS conducts everything from instruction to its own board meetings.

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