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District leaders emphasize importance of community feedback

While a district’s resulting strategic plan and the planning process that precedes the final product differ from the next district’s, they all share a key interest according to area school leaders: community input.

Districts can choose to follow a number of established systems and steps to achieve their planning process, but the result is the same, explained Sarah Burmeister, a Marquette University clinical assistant professor of educational policy and leadership.

“John Bryson identifies 10 steps. John Kotter identifies eight steps, but they’re pretty much the same,” Burmeister said. “At the heart, you have this vision of where you want to be as an organization, the ideal future. What do you want to look like in the ideal future? That’s your vision.”

McFarland School District, which is in the early stages of its planning process, chose to partner with JSC Consulting, headed by Dr. Joe Schroeder, to guide them through the process. The district’s board first met with Schroeder to see whether it would be a good match.

Much of the meeting focused on how Schroeder and the district would get the McFarland community involved in the process, as the district hopes to engage more than those who are readily available to participate.

“We want people to have a voice and feel that they’re part of the process that’s really important for this community,” Tartnutzer said. “The school district is the heart of the community. So, I would want people to feel, as a result of this process, that we are united as a school community and have a clear appreciation for both who we are and who we want to be.”

Monona Grove School District also relied heavily on community input in approving its initial single-page plan, said superintendent Dan Olson. With community focus groups and a strategic planning committee, the district came to understand its strengths and weaknesses through a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) for the district’s ideal future.

Lake Mills Area School completed its planning process in May of last year with a group of 45 people, consisting of community members, school staff members, and district administration. The district’s resulting four pillar plan was only possible with the community’s involvement, district superintendent Tonya Olson wrote in an email.

“I believe the strength of the plan comes from the diverse set of voices we had at the original strategic planning meetings,” Olson wrote in an email. “We want feedback from our community, and we also want the Lake Mills community to see their return on investment as far as how resources are allocated in the district.”

Community involvement, however, does not end there, Burmeister said. While it is important that districts hold themselves accountable and share plan progress publicly, it is equally important for the community to speak up when district actions don’t align with their supposed goals or mission.

“It’s really important that parents and other people are looking at the plan and that they’re asking the questions or pointing out when there are inconsistencies,” Burmeister said.