Plan lays out goals of academic improvement

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The Whitefish School District has adopted a strategic plan for the next six years, laying a path for academic growth for each and every Whitefish student.

The Whitefish School Board unanimously approved the strategic plan during its May 12 meeting.

The plan, which Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt calls a “living document,” lays out the district’s goals and priorities for the future.

Three guiding principles lead the plan — that teaching and learning occurs effectively in both collaborative and independent processes, that working together develops mutual respect, strong relationships and trust within schools and the community, and that Whitefish Schools provide a foundation for an informed democracy.

The plan also sets the district’s aim at three top priorities, for each student to improve academically each year, for the district to use data to drive improvement, and for schools to be safe, inclusive and welcoming environments.

Davis Schmidt in March introduced a draft strategic plan for the district that would set measurable goals and directions through 2025. The draft was the result of several work sessions with the Whitefish School Board Trustees, staff, administration and members of the public, which focused on nailing down what the district is and isn’t doing right and how the latter can be addressed moving forward.

Prior to this strategic plan, Davis Schmidt said the path forward existed in more of a vision format, so it was important to solidify the district’s guiding principles.

Davis Schmidt said a lot of the revisions that came after the first draft were a response to staff and community members asking for a more succinct and focused document.

Some sections, like one highlighting the district’s bright spots and challenges, were cut from the plan entirely.

“There was some strong feeling that those bright spots and challenges were really important, but maybe not as part of the strategic document itself. We don’t want to lose track of it but it doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense here, as well as the letters and some of the other pieces of the plan,” Davis Schmidt said.

While prior versions of the plan had set quantitative benchmarks for student success, like 90 percent of students reaching a proficiency level in a certain test, that was dropped in the final version after many people were dissatisfied with such a metric, Trustee Ruth Harrison said.

Harrison and Trustee Katie Clarke worked with Davis Schmidt to rewrite and finalize the plan before it came to the board for approval.

“We read through all those comments, just stacks of comments, and identified themes. Quite often the comments were questioning, ‘How can you put a percentage to this?’ We started realizing yeah, it’s interesting but it’s very soft information that isn’t appropriate to insert into a six-year-plan. So we ended up trying to capture more of the essence of what we want to shoot for moving forward,” she said.

Clarke agreed.

“I think ultimately what the three of us wanted was this final piece to reflect all the input. Ultimately we talked about it and throughout all of them it said, ‘We want to see improvement, we just want to see growth,’ and that is measurable, so we decided to drop the percent and say we want to see growth,” she said.

The plan also sets out a calendar with scheduled updates for the implementation of different improvements related to the plan, such as professional development opportunities and meetings to align the budget with the district’s new goals.

As the plan gets put into place, the hope is the document will change and adapt as it needs to moving forward.

Clarke said the main goal is that everyone feels like they have skin in the game and can be proud of the plan.

“Hopefully because we involved everybody in it, people feel like they own it,” she said.

The full plan is available at www.wsd44.org under the school board tab.

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