Parents question Vernon schools' future plan

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VERNON — The Vernon Township School District Board of Education is trying to face the future head on and is asking for the public to help with its Strategic Vision Plan.

10-Step Process

Step 1: Interviews — This step, which is mostly complete involves interviewing staff, administrators, parents and town figures, like the mayor, town council and business owners.
Step 2: Stakeholder input — This step is ongoing. The school district has put a survey on their website that they ask everyone in Vernon fill out. This includes students in grades 7 through 12. Paper copies also are available at the schools and the school board office. This will provide valuable information about what the public feels about the schools, how they are run and what the district should be doing in the future.
Step 3: Review & analyze data — The firm takes all of the data from the interviews and the surveys, as well as five years worth of budget data, demographic data and other public information and analyze it for trends and patterns.
Step 4: Present results — The results of the analysis are presented to the steering committee. This 20-person group, made up of community members, staff, teachers, administrators and parents, is tasked with guiding the overall visioning process with guidance from Adams. This committee defines the issues found by the data analysis and sets up the next step.
Step 5: Action teams — Groups of volunteers from any part of the township are organized. They are assigned an issue and asked to come up with a plan to resolve the issue, with specific and measurable goals. The plans are supposed to only go 1 or 2 years into the future.
Step 6: Steering committee review — The steering committee review the plans.
Step 7: Board of Education review — The Board of Education reviews the data analysis reports and the action plans.
Step 8: Community presentation — All of the components of the plan are presented to the public for their input.
Step 9: Implementation — The action teams, administrators and all other school personnel put plans into action.
Step 10: Follow-up — According to Adams, the board of education should follow up on the progress of the plans at least quarterly.

The plan will define the district's strength and weaknesses and last up to 1 to 2 years, and at the end of that time from, the plan's success will be evaluated.

Why Undertake plan?

To improve organizational performance by measuring what matters
To prioritize initiatives for the districto foster proactive planning
To maximize the allocation of resources that directly impact student success
To expand the district's brand and reputation

In response to parent Ginny Moore, William Adams, president of W.H. Adams and Associates said the plan will improve the students' education by giving the district specific goals outlined by the community. Adams said much of what is taught is dictated by mandates from the state and federal governments, which will have to be respected regardless of what the study reveals. Anything else would be tailored to suit the district's needs.

A special focus of the rpesentation was on technology, which is constantly changing and Adams said children in the district need to be prepared to roll with those changes.

Parent Dee Mackery pointed out that the new PARCC test is online, and that for the younger students, this presents a challenge because they can't type properly — only hunt and peck. Adams said this this is one of the items that can be addressed as part of the process.

Another parent, Christine Leon, asked how, if we don't know how technology is going to proceed, can we prepare kids for the future?

“In all of our classes, we're teaching the children how to use the skills they acquire,” Adams said. “We don't know the future, but have to teach them how to cope with what comes.” He thinks that involves balancing creativity with the Common Core Standards required by the state.

Another parent mentioned the need for immediate action, saying he didn't understand the focus on 1 to 2 years in the future when the district has immediate issues, and needs practical answers for the events of the last two years.

Adams replied by asking how the school board and administration were supposed to make decisions on per pupil cost or foreclosures. He said the demographic survey was spot on, and that the population of the district will bottom out in two years. So what does the district do from there? There are lots of factors, he continued, and the steering committee will look at the facts as they are right now.

Other members of the public brought up ideas such as a grant writer to fund improvements, and the option of an extended school year. Adams said all of the ideas were open for inclusion into the project.

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