Strategic Planning Update
When Dr. Julious Lawson began his work as the Ames Community School District Superintendent in the summer of 2022, he embarked on a 100 day plan to listen and learn from all stakeholders in the District. As he listened to students, teachers, administrators, parents, community members, and school board members, he saw a system with many strengths. He also came to this conclusion: “If the Ames CSD is to return to its desired level of greatness, we must improve our focus, cohesion, and alignment.” In order to accomplish this focus, he outlined in his post-100 day plan to begin the work to develop a strategic plan, created with the support of many different voices across the school district.
“As Superintendent, my entry plan was developed to assess the current state of significant areas of the District and chart the course for my transition into the role of Superintendent,” said Lawson. “It was the blueprint for learning more about the District by assessing our strengths, challenges, and opportunities for improvement and determining the best course of action for our students, community, and staff moving forward.”
After evaluating companies that help school districts develop strategic planning, Dr. Lawson recommended a partnership with Cambridge Strategic Services, which was approved by the school board in November 2022. The consultants, Kevin Castner and Frank Morgan, began working with the District to build a vision for what a strategic planning process would look like. The board and Dr. Lawson wanted to ensure the plan had input from a wide variety of stakeholders that represented various aspects of the Ames community. To that end, they presented an outline of the plan to the board in December 2022 and hosted a community summit in January 2023 in order to be transparent about the process they would be using.
The next stage of the process involved gathering a small steering committee to begin to develop the vision to guide the concrete action plans that would follow. This steering committee was made up of 28 individuals that represented a wide variety of community stakeholders: eight teachers, one educational assistant, seven administrators, seven community members, three school board members, and two high school students.
“My initial reaction to being asked to join the strategic planning team was one of excitement regarding the opportunity to be part of this important process,” said Ames community member, Anita Rollins. “It was exciting to see this initiative going forward early in the Superintendent’s tenure so that it could guide the work done on behalf of all children and set expectations for the outcomes.”
“Everyone can say they are too busy,” said Ames CSD parent, Aaron Rodriguez at the start of the strategic planning team meeting, “but this involves our kids, so we can never be too busy for our kids.”
Over the course of three days, this team dug deeply into the current reality of the school district, worked together to understand their different perspectives, and ultimately came to consensus around the major philosophies behind the plan. Guided by Castner and Morgan, the group began by discussing their highest aspirations for the students who are served by the Ames CSD. This work culminated in the creation of a draft mission statement.
“I think I was surprised at how much time we were given to process and collaborate through the process,” said Ames High Instructional Coach, Erik Ringsby.
“Overall, I like the focus on the fact that all students can achieve if we provide them with the tools for it,” said strategic planning team participant and former school board member, Jamet Colton. “As I always say, ‘We’re sitting on a gold mine!’”
Next, the team worked through what they believed needed to happen in order to carry out the mission. They shared their personal beliefs about what school could be for students, families, and staff.
“There is such an opportunity for collaboration but strategic ideas are going to require input. Many students don’t understand how the District can help them accomplish their goals and also engage with the community,” said Ames High senior, David Lee. “The District can really become a supporting figure. From what I have seen in this room, there are a lot of really thoughtful and student oriented administrators that are going to want to really understand what it is like to be a student and how every student, not just the ones already excelling, but every student can achieve success.”
After articulating their beliefs, the team changed focus to analyze the current reality. They studied documents that summarized the current state of the district and heard from district staff. Students were asked to submit video feedback in addition to the surveys they’ve taken in the past, and the team used this to better understand what students saw as current strengths and areas for improvement.
“It would be awesome to replicate the purposeful engagement that is going on here and create a culture of engagement in our community where everyone is involved in our school district,” said Lee. “If we are able to recreate that with the ideas that come out of this plan, that would be not just successful in terms of progress, but also when we have challenges arise then we can solve them together.”
The team also examined strengths and concerns from the community and the state. They used all of this information to identify major objectives for the district to improve on in the next five to seven years. The team identified these six major areas of work:
- Physical, Mental, and Emotional Health & Safety
- Instructional Framework and Programs
- Meeting Diverse Needs
- Organization Responsiveness and Communication
- Building Stakeholder Engagement & Support
- Attracting, Recruiting, and Retaining a High Quality Staff
“Generally, I feel that the drafts we created are a good start,” Rollins confidently stated. “I think there was still some wordsmithing left to do in order to get to statements that we all could agree were in the best interest of all of the youth in the district, particularly those who are underserved. But I believe we can get there.”
When asked what he would want the community to know about this three-day process, Ringsby said, “I would want them to know how much thought, perspective, and dialogue went into this work.”
As part of the second phase of the strategic planning process, these major areas were shared with the community to recruit individuals to engage in studying best practices and recommending specific actions the district should take to improve outcomes in these areas. These individuals would form Action Teams that are focused on one of the six above major areas of work.
“I have a particular perspective so I wish more students would get involved,” said Lee. “In terms of the direction we go there is a responsibility on students to make their voice heard.”
The action planning teams started work in March 2023. At that time, they met with anyone interested in working on that plan. The teams started to brainstorm ideas and share topics they’d like to learn more about. They will continue to meet in small groups to prioritize ideas and create specific action plans. These action plans will be presented to the smaller strategic planning team later in the spring. After the strategic planning team approves and sequences the action plans, they will present the full plan to the school board, which we anticipate will happen in June 2023.
“I hope this is a guiding light for the School Board and Superintendent,” said Colton when asked what her hopes and dreams were for the conclusion of the strategic plan. “I want all of us to see every child as our own to empower, uplift, affirm, protect, educate, and give agency. Our students are our most valuable asset; as a community, we should treat them as such.”
While there is still work to be done, the Ames CSD is so thankful for the community’s investment in this process and their willingness to participate at every stage of the project. We look forward to working together to continue to improve our school district to ensure that our students each get what they need to be successful.
In March 2023, Phase II of the Ames Community School District’s Strategic Planning efforts continued. This time, students, parents, community members, teachers, and staff were invited to participate by joining a Strategic Planning Action Team. Teams will participate in a series of informational and planning sessions. These conversations will focus on work to put action steps behind the objectives developed by the Strategic Planning Team.
Action Teams are led by a designated facilitator and focus on one particular objective that was set forth by the Strategic Planning Team. Those objectives are:
- Physical, Mental and Emotional Health & Safety: Each student will benefit from a safe and vibrant environment that facilitates learning and promotes physical, mental, emotional, and social wellbeing. Topics might include RULER implementation, therapeutic classroom strategies, safety concerns, and learning environment options.
- Instructional Framework and Programs: Each student will benefit from a consistent and viable curriculum, engaging instruction, and connected programs designed to meet individual needs. Topics might include the Danielson framework implementation, instructional strategies, instructional programming, the way we engage in curriculum review, and differentiation.
- Meeting Diverse Needs: Each student will benefit from a clear system in which academic, behavior, and social emotional needs are identified, skills are taught, and high expectations are met. Topics might include how to support MTSS structures across the district, using data to inform instructional and programmatic decision making, and programs to support students with unique needs.
- Organization Responsiveness & Communication: Each student will benefit from effective communication and feedback with staff and the community.Topics might include how to engage in both sending and receiving communication at all levels of the district (staff, students, parents, and community).
- Building Stakeholder Engagement and Support: Each student will benefit from a variety of community partnerships that support their educational, career, or extracurricular pursuits.Topics might include increasing community partnerships around educational programs at all levels, increasing career opportunities and explorations for students, and supporting a variety of extracurricular interests for students.
- Attracting, Retaining, and Developing High-Quality Staff: Each student will benefit from a diverse staff who will engage in regular, high-quality professional learning and reflection.Topics might include ideas on how to reduce turnover of teachers, administrators, and support staff, how to recruit a more diverse staff at all levels of the organization, and a partnership with other groups as we work to develop professional development structures and processes.
Teams will meet through April 2023 as they research, discuss, and design actions to be taken by the District to achieve their objectives. At the conclusion, the team will develop a report for their action considerations to be presented by the team leader to the Strategic Planning Team. The District anticipates the Strategic Planning Team will meet again in May 2023.