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School board adopts strategic plan
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The Effingham County School System will have a strategic plan in place to guide its mission, after board of education members approved it at their March 2 meeting.

School system personnel, with input from community members, began formulating the plan as early as last March. The school board held a public meeting to explore if the Effingham system should become a charter system, be a status quo system or become an IE2 system. The Effingham school board has chosen to become a strategic waiver system, which the IE2 path has become.

As the school board made the decision to become a strategic waiver system, the first steps for the strategic plan were taken. The first community engagement was held Sept. 15 last year, with 31 stakeholders meeting. There also were 311 responses to an online survey.

“The two most valuable parts to our strategic plan are the fact it included the views and beliefs of a wide range of stakeholders and that it is an active document, reviewed by the board throughout the year with an emphasis on doing what is best for students,” said Superintendent Randy Shearouse.

Stakeholders gathered in October as the planning team to answer three questions — who was the school system, where is it now and where does it want to go.

The planning team met with community and system personnel in early December, and the action team of school personnel finalized the plan in mid-December. It was submitted to board members Feb. 3.

The strategic plan identified five goal areas — purpose and direction, governance and leadership, teaching and assessing for learning, resources and support systems, and continuous improvement. The plan also calls for performance objectives, such as engaging in inclusive and comprehensive planning process for student success, ensure autonomy at all levels to meet student achievement goals, provide high-quality professional learning to all staff, ensure all students are college and career ready, ensure a high-quality workforce, ensure safe and well-maintained facilities and ensure parents and students understand the data being used to measure and improve the system.

“I think it sets a pretty high standard for us to make sure this gets done, and consistently and well,” said board member Beth Helmly.

The goal areas and the objectives also have measurements and milestones to meet. The strategic plan process also explored the challenges through focus group and online survey results. Among the topics cited as challenges were funding for programs and facilities, getting parents and the community involved in the school system, keeping quality teachers and staff, the prevalence of standardized tests and “teaching to the test.”

Challenges for the students, according to the focus group and survey results, also were entailed, such as work ethic, lack of parental supervision, being ready for college and personal needs. From both the stakeholder groups and the Web surveys, the common areas of concern were recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers, class sizes, parental involvement, student achievement, communication and technology resources.

The strategic plan process also spelled out what are seen as the school system’s assets, including diversity in curriculum, current class sizes, commitment to hiring and keeping well-trained teachers, emphasis on students’ success, communication from the schools and opportunities for parental involvement.

The strategic plan is designed to serve as a five-year guide for the school system, but it also can be adjusted and revised as situations and priorities arise.

“It’s always going to be something that is going to change,” said Travis Nesmith, executive director of instruction and technology for Effingham County Schools. “We understand that. That’s the good thing about it that we will have flexibility as we move along.”

“It clearly is an active document that can be adjusted and modified as the needs of the system change,” Shearouse said. “The connection with Advanced-Ed should make our school improvement planning a continuous process and not just a process where we compile information for our five-year accreditation visit. As you look at the goals in the plan, it is clear to see that the community, board and staff are laser-focused on doing what is best for our students.”