Judy Gilreath: Strategic plan steers direction for school system

Judy Gilreath

In August of 2014 Whitfield County Schools began a strategic planning process with a community survey.

The feedback was tremendous!

More than 1,100 staff and community members responded to survey questions. Their answers helped principals and district administrators prioritize the district’s greatest challenges, specify what students need to learn to be successful and define the evidence to assist in evaluating the quality of education in Whitfield County Schools. The survey responses helped the committee determine the educational and financial priorities for our first strategic plan.

The six areas of focus were:

• Instruction and assessment: Provide the educational foundation and opportunities to accelerate all students to achieve expected or high academic growth.

• Highly qualified personnel: Recruit, retain and develop highly-qualified personnel.

• Finance: Ensure fiscal stability and increase reserves through sound financial practices.

• Community Involvement: Strengthen school, family and community partnerships.

• Operations: Provide safe and efficient facilities, maintenance and transportation services.

• Technology: Improve student academic achievement by strengthening technology integration.

The plan has not been a document that sat on the shelf. The 2015-2020 strategic plan has guided purposeful decision-making throughout the district from the classroom to the boardroom for the last five years. Each goal is built into our daily work lives and into our culture. A lot of progress has been made toward the goals set in 2014.

One of the most notable achievements is that of our high school graduation rate. In 2014 only 65.2% of our students were graduating from high school within four years. The latest graduation rate for Whitfield County Schools is 86.8%. We won’t be satisfied until 100% of our students are graduating because this rate is more than a number. The data represents students who are depending on us to prepare them for their future. I am encouraged, however, because we are moving in the right direction, and we are all working together to ensure our students are given the best opportunities that are available. They deserve nothing less!

We are reaching the end of our current five-year plan and are now planning for the coming years. Although a lot has been accomplished since 2014, each year brings a new class of students depending on us to provide them with a quality education, so our job never ends. We can never allow ourselves to be satisfied with the progress we have made but must constantly work toward improvement.

System leaders believe that the needs of our students will best be served with a three-year plan this time. As before, we began our planning by asking our community, parents and teachers for their opinions concerning our school system's future direction.

Once again, the responses were excellent. More than 1,000 people responded to the survey we published. Our strategic planning process will consider student and system needs, priorities of the community, concerns of parents and employees and what is best for children when formulating goals for our new strategic plan. The plan will outline strategies to use in attaining the goals and will list the evidence we will see when these goals are reached. This three-year strategic plan will push us forward and drive all of us to reach for ever higher levels of success for our students.

It will not only help us focus on the top curriculum needs but will also determine our budget priorities for the next three years. In the area of operations and technology, it will help us focus on the need to develop sustainable maintenance and replacement processes and schedules. The plan will force us to be more proactive rather than reactive.

The new strategic plan definitely increases accountability. Although we will be using many metrics and data that we have always had, we will focus on ways to analyze and use the data to drive instruction. All of this will drive improvement, not only of academics, but of facilities, finance and operations. The new strategic plan is ambitious but attainable. We refuse to be status quo and just float along. The new plan will compel us to make things happen!

Judy Gilreath is superintendent of Whitfield County Schools.

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