Archive for Thursday, June 21, 2001

School district identifies, adopts long-term goals

June 21, 2001

The De Soto School Board adopted a five-year strategic plan Monday that calls for the continued application of new technology, greater district engagement with the community and renewed effort to recruit and retain quality teachers.

The plan is a result of an effort involving 250 members of the community, plus district students, teachers and administrators. The process started last October at a weekend retreat of 12 school district representatives and 13 members of the community. The retreat produced a mission statement, a statement of beliefs, three objections and seven strategies.

Over the next six months, 20-member actions teams equally represented by district personnel and community members worked to develop action plans for each strategy.

Board member Jim Thomas, who served on the strategic plan committee with Board President Jim Plummer, said the plan the community effort produced expressed the geographically fractured district's common values.

"The only thing that ties all parts of the district together is the district," he said. "This is De Soto. We took people from everywhere and pulled this together."

Woven in a number of the strategies' action plans are calls for the district to use the community as a resource in accomplishing its mission while it provides educational and cultural opportunities for the community.

It suggests the district establish a "ventureship" program that would encourage mutually beneficial partnerships with the community and businesses. As a way to promote the partnerships, the plan recommends the district develop a system that would evaluate the "benefits of the Ventureship Program for both business and community partners."

Superintendent Marilyn Layman said the ventureship program as a means for the district to into partnerships with businesses and organizations that would give students and facility "real world" experience. She suggested this could be done through apprenticeships and internships for students and summer jobs for teachers.

The plan outlines a six-fold effort to attract, develop and retain quality teachers. It suggests the district increase its presence at state universities, identify a funding source for staff training, start a mentor program for new teachers, create a position to support first- and second-year teachers, make sabbaticals available to veteran facility members and schedule exit interviews with departing teachers.

Deputy superintendent Sharon Zoellner said the funding source for staff training would be identified in the strategic plan's first year and the mentor program and exit interviews would start with the 2001-2002 school year. The mentor program would come with a $70,000 price tag in additional salary demands, she said.

Further opportunities for staff development is one of the recommended action plans for a strategy calling for the delivering of world-class educational experiences and lifelong learning. That action, too, would require additional dollars next year, Zoellner said.

The two-year teachers' contract the board recently approved would add an additional day of teacher in-service next year. The report Zoellner shared with the board Monday put that cost at $30,000, but she said that figure should be considered fluid.

As for technology, the plan calls for the district to seek electronic options to "paper-based" textbooks and assessments. It also suggests the district develop a districtwide electronic method to track student performance and ability levels.

The themes of community engagement and technology merge in a recommendation that the district publish an organization chart on the district's Web site so that "issues can be addressed to the appropriate personnel."

Copies of the strategic plan will be available at the district administrative office. It will also be posted on the district's Web site.

Much of language in the strategic plan would appear to support Layman's proposal that the district develop a pilot program that would make laptop computer from NetSchools Corp. available to students.

In May, Layman provided the board with two alternative pilot programs. One would provide 876 laptops at the district's two middle schools for a total cost of $1.69 million. The other suggestion would introduce 922 computers at the district's west campus of Starside Elementary, Lexington Trails Middle School and De Soto High School for an estimated $2.2 million.

The presentation from a Netschoools representative, which was to be July 2, was to precede the board's decision on the pilot program. The presentation has been rescheduled for July 16. With the delay, the board will now consider approval of the NetSchools proposal Aug. 6.

Monday, board member Sandy Thierer sought to clarify what the board would approve during that meeting.

"Are we talking about making a final decision to implement NetSchools districtwide or is it giving the superintendent the authority to get funding for a pilot program?" she asked. "I'm thinking this is a two-part decision. Our decision to implement the program districtwide is dependent on finding beneficial outcomes from the pilot program."

Reassured that the board would only be approving the pilot program, Thierer sought assurance the NetSchools program would not consume funds meant for other programs. She asked if Layman could provide the board with an estimate of what percentage of the pilot program would be grant funded.

Layman has said in the past that the pilot program would be primarily funded through grants. Although no general fund money would be used for the program, it would require the district use revenue from its technology fund and other special accounts, she said.

In response to Thierer's question Monday, the superintendent declined to estimate the percentage of grant funding used in the pilot program, other than to say "as much as possible." The district will spend technology fund revenue on the program, but Layman said that was money the district would spend with or without Netschools.

Layman assured the board no other programs would be cut to fund NetSchools.

"It's not about sacrificing other programs. We have to afford it," she said. "I see this as any other expenditure. You don't tell us to spend X amount on textbooks. You trust us not to go overboard on that and spend more than we can afford. This is the same principle."

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