Setting a Vision for School Success
The Rennie Center Helps Build Strategic Plan for Worcester Schools
It’s no easy task for schools and districts to keep up with the ever-changing world around them. Preparing an increasingly diverse student population for the global and digital economy of tomorrow means setting a new vision for schools. This takes significant planning, resources, and a commitment from the whole community.
This year, we had the chance to help the city of Worcester plan for its future. The community and school system came together to chart a new course for Worcester Public Schools by creating the district’s first new strategic plan in 25 years. We worked with the Worcester Education Collaborative and the Worcester Regional Research Bureau, with critical support from Worcester Public Schools, to help the city build Defining Our Path: A Strategic Plan for Education in Worcester (view the public draft).
This strategic plan sets ambitious goals in five areas: innovation, academic excellence, welcoming schools, investment in educators, and technology and operations. Choosing these focus areas required input from the whole community. Through public forums, focus groups, and an online survey, we heard from more than 600 students, families, educators, and community members about their hopes for the future of Worcester schools. This, along with state and district data, was analyzed by community members including educators, recent students, parents, school committee members, and community, city, and university leaders.
“I think the most effective part of the planning process was gathering all the information from community forums and meeting with different advisory groups to see their passion and their commitment to this process,” said Worcester Public Schools Superintendent Maureen Binienda. “The people power that resulted from collaboration makes me excited for this plan because I know the community is behind us and is going to help us achieve it.”
Having a community-driven vision is one key element to an effective and sustainable strategic plan. Schools cannot work in isolation. Leadership in schools may change and funding sources may shift, but if a whole community is committed to a shared vision of learning, new goals can withstand unforeseen challenges. The community also brings resources that can expand learning opportunities beyond the traditional bounds of the classroom. Businesses, cultural institutions, and universities can offer students work-based learning experiences or access to early college programs. For example, Worcester’s strategic plan lays the groundwork for an Enrichment Academy that will offer mentoring from local college students, learning activities hosted by the city’s cultural and community organizations, and seminars on Worcester’s college campuses.
The second key element to a successful strategic plan is setting clear and measurable outcomes. Sustainable change requires a specific goal as well as benchmarks to track progress along the way. Worcester’s strategic plan includes benchmarks for each focus area. For example, Worcester set a goal to have 100% of students take part in a digital learning experience—like a computer science course—by 2023. With less than one-third of middle and high school students taking part in this kind of learning, the plan sets a target of 53% by 2019 and 76% by 2021. These benchmarks will allow the district to track progress and adjust strategies if it's not on track to reach its goals.
Communities know what their students need and bring so many great ideas to improve education. We want to ensure that every community’s vision for education becomes a reality. That’s why we’ve created a six-part process to guide all improvements efforts, including strategic plans.
“I think the value of having an outside organization like the Rennie Center was important to this process for a couple of reasons. The Rennie Center has a broad and deep understanding of the landscape of education across the state,” said Jennifer Davis Carey, Strategic Plan Co-Chair and Executive Director of the Worcester Education Collaborative. “I also think having an outside organization that can keep you honest, both intellectually honest in dealing with issues and keeping you on task, was very important.”
“I would say to other superintendents that are interested in doing this that they really have to partner with a reputable organization, like the Rennie Center, that is grounded in research and education and really cares about how we provide for all students,” said Binienda.
If your district is looking to follow Worcester’s lead in setting a new path for your future, we’re here to help! Contact Laura Dziorny at firstname.lastname@example.org.