School plan modified before rollout

by Tom Coombe
It took several months and a series of meetings to develop a proposed strategic plan for the Ely School District.
But at least for now, the district will wait to take the plan public.
Goals set by a 20-member committee have been condensed, and superintendent Kevin Abrahamson has developed objectives and action items related to each goal.
The committee, minus many of its members, gathered Monday with consultant Ralph Brauer to review the work and talk about the next steps in a process that started midway through the 2016-17 school year.
There was brief discussion this week of a public rollout, perhaps during parent-teacher conferences next month, but several committee members said more remains to be done - including internal discussions with school staff and perhaps further development of specifics.
Elementary principal Anne Oelke said she “would want to be very confident,” about the plan before the district moves forward.
Others suggested the development of talking points and discussions with district teachers about details of the plan.
Each goal was shortened - at least in terms of number of words - from what committee members settled on last spring.
The five current goals in the draft plan are:
• Involving stakeholders in long-term planning for facilities, including extra curriculars;
• Maintaining high standards for facilities maintenance, including extracurriculars;
• Developing and implementing a 21st century curriculum for life-long learning;
• Ensuring all students access to necessary classes and skills for post-secondary opportunities;
• Achieving national recognition in technology.
With each goal comes a specific proposed objective, action items indicating what will be done, when it will be done, who is responsible, and how it will be determined if a goal is reached.
Abrahamson outlined a roughly three-year process, with a June, 2020 timeline for meeting specific objectives.
“We can’t say this is the best thing since sliced bread, but within three years we should be able to measure,” said Abrahamson.
Committee members grappled with some of the specifics this week, particularly how the district will achieve its goal of “ensuring all students access to necessary classes and skills for post-secondary opportunities.”
The goal evolved from discussions related to enhancing curriculum and perhaps offering more elective classes and a seven-period day.
Some committee members pushed for more detailed goals and took exception to language that might infer the district would focus only on what’s necessary or required for graduation.
Abrahamson said “I don’t believe we only offer the minimum. I don’t believe US News and World Report would recognize Ely as one of the top high schools in the country if we only offered the minimum.”
Earlier meetings included an assessment of district strengths and weaknesses and a draft mission statement that reads “The mission of the Ely School District is to educate all students in a positive and safe environment to become responsible and respectful life-long learners.”
Brauer said the mission statement, which has already been adopted by the school board and placed on school letterhead, needs to be able to pass the “barber shop” test - essentially that it must be explainable to people in the communty.
He walked committee members through an exercise in which they were asked to recite the mission statement.
“If you can say it or explain it, that’s what’s important,” said Brauer. “It’s not important that you get all the words right.”
The entire process has been facilitated by Brauer, an author, former college professor and one-time member of the Anoka-Hennepin School Board.
He led the discussions and offered his own modifications to the various goals at various points to help move the process along.