PARIS — The Strategic Planning Committee is ready to begin development of the next five-year phase of what the district calls its “bridge to the future,” when it meets Monday, Feb. 25 at 5 p.m. at the central office.

The meeting will begin the process of drafting a plan of action that will build upon the current plan and guide the school district for the next five years.

“We’re not looking to rewrite the whole plan,” explained SAD 17 Director Jared Cash, who in 2014 chaired the committee that wrote the Strategic Plan that had not been updated since 1997. Instead, the committee will look at and identify what needs to be focused on, such as grading or physical facilities, and prioritize and identify strategies to address those issues.

The committee will break into two;  the larger committee comprised of a wide range of folks from business and community leaders to business leaders who will meet once a month and a smaller committee that will meet monthly to ensure the everything is logistically moving along. The plan will then be brought back before the full Board of Directors as early as December, but probably no later than May 2019, for a vote.

As the process continues throughout this year, it is expected there will be community-wide engagement sessions as there had been previously to ensure the widest range of input.

“Five years ago when we did this, we really did this from scratch. Now we have a template, a really strong plan, that has led us for four years,” said Cash. “We’ve accomplished a lot.”

Last month, Superintendent Rick Colpitts reviewed the results of the school district’s current Strategic Plan.

“It’s been a guidepost for us it,” Colpitts told the Board of Directors at its January 22 meeting. “It’s help steer us and prioritize projects for us.”

But the job is hardly done, he said.

“Within a year we’ll bring new plan back to the board for next five years that will provide a sail for the future,” said Colpitts.

In 2012, Colpitts told the Board of Directors it would be part of a district-wide effort to develop a vision for students. The action was being done throughout Maine school districts as many moved to customizing learning for each student.

Two years later then Strategic Planning Committee Chairman Jared Cash unveiled to fellow board members a 38-page, five-year blueprint for the direction of the Oxford Hills School District, that included everything from teaching to managing finances.

That committee represented longtime community members, alumni, parents of students, former teachers, SAD 17 board members, then current teachers and administrators. The panel had met with a facilitator over the course of a year to set a course of action for the next five years. During that time, the group held a community forum with more than 150 people to discuss the school district’s future and surveys and gather ideas.

Issues were prioritized, goals set and means to achieve them identified.

Colpitts described the building of the Strategic Plan as “like looking at your family history in ancestry.com. It keeps multiplying.”

“There’s probably 20 things under each category,” he said.

Results reviewed

In his review of the current plan, Colpitts said teaching and learning had been set as a top priority and new ways to address those issues such as through experiential learning that involved a race car collaboration with Crazy Horse Racing in Paris and outdoor classrooms at the Roberts Farm were developed.

Other curricula needs were addressed through the Strategic Plan, said Colpitts. The district made a standards based curricula in areas such as reading, math and science. Each year a new curriculum has been added and in many cases new materials added.

Policies were written for proficiency diplomas and while the grading system has not been worked out – yet particularly for the high school – a new grading system for kindergarten through grade 8 students is closer to a resolution.

Other initiatives that were written into the Strategic Plan in 2014 and have come to fruition include a first-in-the-state math coach program between SAD 17 and University of Maine at Farmington, which continues to grow today, he said.

Access to food has been expanded to improve learning for children.

“That’s big deal,” said Colpitts of the program that feeds all elementary school kids for free.

The opportunity for multiple pathways of education continues to expand because the school came a comprehensive high school decades ago.

Preschool opportunities have expanded from two classrooms district-wide to a classroom at every school that has a kindergarten.

“That’s a huge growth,” he said.

Challenges faced

While much progress has been made, there are some areas that still need action, Colpitts told the directors.

“We discovered challenges in the last four years,” he said.

While test scores have improved in some areas, Colpitts said,” We’ve learned we’re more than test score.”

“What are the indicators of success and how are our kids doing on those tests? We have to do a better job of communication,” he said.

The results of implementing of new curriculum may not known for a while.

Financial planning and oversight presents challenges to the district, Colpitts said, because the district has to rely on the state for about 50 percent of its revenue in making long-term plans and because the state restricts school districts to one-year budgets.

Additionally, special education services continue to be a challenge.

“It’s the fastest growing cost center in the state of Maine in past five years,” he said.

Of the future, the district must contend with aging buildings and the challenge of whether the district can continue to afford its community based schools.

Communication with the district at large, including alumnus, needs to be better addressed, said Colpitts.

Reaching out to alumnus is a challenge and needs to be improved, but without an alumni office that specifically works on the alumni communication it’s not that easy, he said.

The future

“We have a good plan,” Cash told the board after Colpitts’ presentation in January.

The district now has a direction to go in, he said. Some of the plan will change, some sections need more work, new sections need to be added.

State budgets shrink and expand, local needs change, educational mandates change – all impacting items in the strategic plans, Cash noted to fellow board members.

“As I recall, we were cutting a million plus (dollars) and taxing (district communities) more,” Cash said of conditions when the Strategic Plan process began four years ago. “That was the atmosphere when we were starting,” he said.

“We should be doing this about every four years,” he said.

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