Community Education

School District Strategic Plan sets stage for changes to come

Posted on June 22nd, 2022 By:

If Peninsula School District were a corporation, its 2022-26 Strategic Plan would be the equivalent of a long-term business plan.

But instead of delivering commercial goods or services, the district is a publicly funded entity. Its “customers” are its more than 9,000 students and their families. Its stakeholders include roughly 600 teachers and nearly 400 support staff. And taxpayers who provide state and local funding on which the district relies.

If you’re one of those stakeholders who’s been paying attention, you know this spring, the district put out a draft version of the 2022-2026 Strategic Plan — stating a broad mission, values and goals — to solicit feedback from the community. More than 1,200 people, 16 percent of whom were students, responded to an online survey using the ThoughtExchange app, a tool commonly used by school districts in the planning process.

Just the beginning

On Thursday, the school board is set to adopt the final draft of the plan. But that’s really just the beginning of the process. The board meets at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 23, at at Swift Water Elementary, 10811 Harbor Hill Drive.

Over the next five years, the plan will serve as a compass to guide the district’s operations and culture toward ideals collectively envisioned by the process so far …  at least that’s the theory.

School board President Lori Glover said the plan is designed to have measurable goals and “action steps.” Progress will be readily available to the public. That’s still a work in progress.

Students and parents may not notice changes related to the plan on the first day of school this fall. Yet some of those changes will already be in the works, Glover said.

“It’s exciting to finally be on our way, really just setting the course so that we know where we’re trying to go,” Glover said.

The proof of the plan’s success will be looking back five years from now and seeing how far the district has come.

Board sets the framework

The strategic planning process began in January and involved focus groups with students and staff at each school.

The school board created a draft of the district’s vision, mission, values and goals for next five years. Peninsula’s mission: “To be the best school district in the state by preparing every child to be a successful and engaged global citizen through innovative, rigorous programs within a culture of belonging.”

The values — related to excellence, curiosity, confidence, culture and character — are stated in a way that puts students at the center, Glover notes. For example, under culture, the document states, “Every child belongs, matters and will be provided every opportunity to succeed.”

The proposed goals relate to: academic excellence, innovation, fiscal responsibility, learning environment and community engagement.

Glover said the plan was overdue for an update. But the board waited until this year, when the new superintendent was in place. Krestin Bahr took over in August for interim Superintendent Art Jarvis.

Key take-aways from survey

ThoughtExchange survey participants were asked to weigh in on statements related to areas of focus in the board’s draft. Participants could make comments (“thoughts”) and rate other people’s thoughts.

Among the 1,258 participants, there were 1,067 thoughts that generated 51,148 ratings. The majority of respondents were district employees (45 percent) and parents or caregivers of students (41 percent). Students made up 16% of respondents; 4% were volunteers and 13% were listed as “community members.”

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Among the top-ranked thoughts within the survey were the topics of access for people with disabilities, providing children a “safe environment” in which to learn, and a call for the district to be more attuned to educator feedback.

Rated number two in terms of importance was the statement: “Community engagement is wonderful as long as the opinion of the few doesn’t alter the learning environment or the curriculum for all.”

Thoughts on school lunch topped the list among respondents who ranked as number one the following: “As a health care provider, I am passionate about the health of our children and could PSD consider providing them with more nutritious school meals?”

Future teachers weigh in

Students considering a career in teaching commented in May for Gig Harbor Now on the ThoughtExchange process, the Strategic Plan and what could be improved in Peninsula School District.

All seniors, the students were taking part in a “Teacher Academy” taught at Henderson Bay High School by Rebecca Wenrich.

Several students commented that the district should expand innovative instructional models like those at Pioneer Elementary that use new technology and foster experiential learning.

“I think the priority should definitely be the students,” said Shelby Stordahl. “I think Pioneer is an awesome exploration into that. They dive into teaching to everyone’s different learning styles, putting the students first and going past just bookwork and just sitting down for the normal class.”

Student Dani Verrue said the district could do a better job of preparing students for careers

“It feels like they don’t really set us up for success outside of high school,” she said. “It just feels like we’re doing things that are necessary to just get us through our last four years.”

Kaitlyn Goulet-Teran, a student at Gig Harbor High, said the district should focus more on creating safe schools. Bullying is often subtle enough to go under the radar. LGBTQ students, racial minorities and students with disabilities are especially vulnerable, she said.

“People can fall through the cracks. And that is happening. I see that every single day,” she said.

How public feedback was used

Glover said feedback from the ThoughtExchange survey was incorporated in a follow-up draft of the Strategic Plan.

“We did make some fairly significant changes based on feedback from ThoughtExchange,” she said.

Specifically, Glover said, some language that survey participants found vague or confusing was updated for clarity.

Among respondents, there was a prevailing theme calling for transparency and asking how the district would measure outcomes. The board took asked staff to come up with action items and a system of metrics related to broad goals. Constituents can expect to see some kind of dashboard or other tool to monitor progress, but that’s not available yet.

“The board was responsible for the mission and the vision and the values,” Glover said. “And then, really, the district leadership team helped hammer out the goals and the metrics for those.”

This teacher ‘optimistic’ for the future

Wenrich, the teacher shepherding future educators, is encouraged by the Strategic Plan process.

The district tapped not only teachers but all staff for feedback, along with students and their families, and the community at large.

“When you’ve got all three parties at the table — versus it’s always felt like somebody has been left out of the conversation, and that lacks perspective — I think when you’ve got all stakeholders involved, I feel like that is a catalyst for change,” Wenrich said.

Despite the upheaval in schools these days from COVID, culture wars and other pressures on students and staff, Wenrich thinks things are looking up.

“I am optimistic,” she said. “I don’t think there’s any other way to be if you truly want change, right?”