North Branch schools focusing on short-term plans

A common mantra in sports is taking things one game at a time. The North Branch School District has adopted a similar mantra when it comes to assessing the district’s long-range plans. 

Rather than developing a five-year long-range plan like many government entities do, the district has adopted a two-year continuous improvement plan.

“I’m really pleased that we have gone away from a five-year strategic plan to a two-year model,” said Superintendent Dr. Deb Henton. “I think it gives us the opportunity to look deeply at what we’re doing every year, and to gather feedback from our community is really important. We think a five-year plan is too distant. We need to be really flexible and nimble, and we only look out for this year and next year.”

Henton talked about their two-year plan at a meeting of the North Branch Chamber of Commerce during a “state of the district” speech on Tuesday, Nov. 12.

“We’ve had the same four goals for the continuous improvement plan for all 13 years I’ve been here,” she said.

Those general goals are:

1. Prepare all learners for success in school and life.

2. Raise accountability for all staff and programs.

3. Increase community engagement.

4. Commit resources to district priorities.

To that extent, Community Relations Coordinator Patrick Tepoorten presented to the school board during their Nov. 14 meeting results from a survey through the district’s “Thought Exchange” on their website. The survey was one simple question: “What is working well with the school district’s current continuous improvement plan, and what would you like to see receive greater emphasis?”

“We did very well judged against recent ‘thought exchanges,’” Tepoorten said. “We had 190 participants who shared 154 thoughts.”

Tepoorten said that 88% of the participants were parents or guardians, with the rest being from the general public. 

He said there were five key takeaways that came out of the comments: 1. Class size is an important issue, 2. Classroom discipline, 3. Loving the updates, 4. Secondary electives were important, and 5. Sports vs. education.

“There were a lot of comments about class size,” Tepoorten said regarding the number one topic. “It remains a very important issue.”

Referencing the number five topic, Tepoorten said, “This is an interesting one. We have so many improvements within our district. We have received a number of comments from people who are concerned that our spending has been lopsided towards activities as opposed to education. But they don’t go in our buildings, they don’t see our classrooms – the sound systems we’ve put in for teachers and so on. So it behooves us to do a better job in communicating those improvements to our community.”

In conclusion, Tepoorten extolled how “Thought Exchange” has enabled the district to gain feedback better.

“What do you suppose it would take to get 190 people to come to the school district and give their feedback?” he asked the board. “Many years ago, we tried many ways to get people to come to us and give their feedback. We held dinners and fed people, but it was very difficult to get more than a handful of people. So the ‘Thought Exchange’ process continues to be an excellent way for our people to reach out to residents and for us to gather large amounts of feedback.”

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