Creating an Effective Strategic Plan for the School District

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to examine the process of developing a strategic plan for school districts through communication and involvement of all stakeholders. This process takes into consideration the diverse concerns and principles; supports scholarly and coherent decision making; and employs the development of a strategic plan through both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. As a final point, strategic planning should be able to show where we are; where we want to go; how we will get there; the time line involved; and the cost associated with the project.

The strategic planning technique is easily adapted to various organizations including school districts. In the past decision and planning process was incorporated by a select group of leaders at the top of the hierarchy of the organization. However, many diverse groups within the organization should have the ability to have input in the plan the process of analyzing various situations and deciding in which direction the organization would move. The consequences of this planning advanced a document now attributed as a strategic plan. Once the plan has been developed and approved it is then implemented over a specific period of time.

According to Bryson (1995), strategic planning is:

"a disciplined effort to produce fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, what it does and why it does it. To deliver the best results, strategic planning requires broad yet effective information gathering, development and exploration of strategic alternative, and an emphasis on future implications of present decisions.

The planning process can help smooth the progress of communication and involvement, contain varied concerns and principles, promote intelligent and logical resolution making, and encourage implementation. As a final point, strategic planning can consequently deal with individuals' life mysteries (Bryson, 1995). Strategic planning has its roots in the military with early organizations mirroring this chain of command approach. The decisions and planning thus was employed by a selected few leaders at the top of the organization. This planning process involved analyzing various situations and deciding in which direction the organization would move. The results of this planning evolved a document referred to now as a strategic plan. Once established, the plan could then be implemented (Wall & Wall, 1995).

In the early 1950s the business world captivated with the ideas of formulating strategic plans, the process became widespread. This was due to private and public agencies believing that the strategic planning process was the answer to all their despair. However, after the boom of that era, businesses discarded the fad until the 1990s, when it resurfaced as a planning process that had particular benefits (Mintzberg, 1994).

Problem Statement

In the past ten years, southeastern school districts have faced continuous organizational changes in its schools, along with state and federal mandates, challenges of diversity, and an influx of ESL students. School districts are therefore faced with developing innovative strategies to address these changes while it continues to meet the every day School districts and states have engaged in formulating strategic plans in order to implement change and in order to become acclimated to the ever changing environment (Rowley, Lujan, & Dolence, 1997).

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of strategic planning process is to enable school districts, other organizations, and leaders to concentrate its abilities in establishing area, goals, objectives and activities over a predetermined timeline. The process allows the leaders of the organization to act in response to a changing state of affairs and to also generate decisions and actions that will lead and shape the organizations future.

Benefits of Strategic Planning

Managers and administrators may ask, is strategic planning the answer to many of their organizational challenges? If so, what are the benefits of inaugurating a strategic plan for the school district? Developing a strategic plan for a school district that covers a period of five years may benefit stakeholders in a variety of ways. A strategic plan establishes a vision, mission and beliefs for the school district; the plan establishes the path to accomplish its desired future; the plan provides a path which allows the community to work together to accomplish the goals, objectives, and activities that constitute the strategic plan; it allows for an understanding of how a school district works, how finances are spent, and identifies the needs of the school district; and allows the school district to set specific data-driven priorities.


Most school superintendents and school board members prefer the idea of a planned direction for decision-making. There is, however, a degree of confusion regarding how to establish this process and what is required to formulate and implement school district wide priorities. "Planning is a formalized procedure to produce an articulated result, in the form of an integrated system of decisions." Thinking about and attempting to control the future are important components of planning (Mintzberg, 1994 p. 12). "Planning is required when the future state desired involves a set of interdependent decisions; that is a system of decisions" (Ackoff, 1970 in Mintzberg, 1994, p. 11). William Cook, Jr. (1988) wrote, "Strategic planning is aimed at total concentration of the organizations' resources on mutually predetermined measurable outcomes." According to these definitions a strategic plan would consist of all a school districts assets and objectives. Thus, a strategic plan must be developed consciously and considerately. The process requires a qualitative methodology. According to C. George Boeree (1998), qualitative methodology captures life as it is lived. L.R. Gay (1996) defines qualitative research as the collection of extensive narrative information on many variables over a period of time, which occurs in naturalistic surroundings. This allows the researcher to acquire insights not otherwise available through other methodologies.

Qualitative research allows for a more complete understanding of behavior requiring an understanding of the circumstances in which it takes place. The qualitative approach is more concerned with both the way and the how things become what they are in a naturalistic setting. Qualitative researchers further consider how people feel about things as they exist, what people believe, as well as what meanings are emotionally involved with the assorted activities.

During the strategic planning process researchers employ multi-method approaches in order to realize the purpose of gathering comprehensive and in-depth knowledge of subject matter. These multi-method approaches include but are not limited to participant observation, document collection, and informal interviewing. Comprehensive note taking is also employed during the observation and interview process. The result of this technique provides an in-depth assessment of the school district as a unit. Consequently an enormous task of codifying the gathered information results in a comprehensive information base that serves as the tool for establishing future directions.

Strategic planning terminology must be clearly defined by educational leaders prior to the beginning of the planning process. Every scholastic group must be made aware of the steps as well as the language asserted with this type of planning. The outline that follows presents a model as well as an interpretation of the terminology associated with strategic planning. Each step is defined and explained in order that practitioners may use it in whole or in part.

A Conceptual Model for Strategic Planning

The conceptual model presented herein begins with a presentation to the superintendent and board members of the school district.

Step 1: Planning to Plan:

Figure 1. Readiness of a group to plan.

This is the critical first step. The department
head and others must assess
the readiness of a group to plan. The
process used should match the resources,
purposes and political environment of the
entity doing the planning.


1) Fiscal, human and material resources
necessary for planning

2) Form and timing of all reports

3) Commitment levels required

4) Required Steps

5) Organizational arrangements required to

Step II: Gain and Sustain Commitment:

Figure 2 identifies the stakeholders and communication procedures that should be involved in the strategic planning process.

Figure 2. Stakeholders and communication process

1) Identify and involve stakeholders

2) Conduct public meetings to ensure
total participation

3) Involve the media

4) Make the process high profile

5) Set reasonable expectations of work

6) Set realistic timelines

7) Use opportunities to celebrate milestones

8) Identify and quickly accomplish tasks
that result in interim success

9) Communicate

10) Provide public input by using

11) Hotlines

12) Speakers

13) Consultants

14) Public forums

15) Identify and publicize the work of all

Step III: The process begins with an explanation of what planning involves:

   The process of an agency, organization,
   entity, or institution determining its
   current status, examining its priorities,
   deciding where it wants to go, and identifying
   the necessary resources required
   to attain its decided upon direction. (e.g.
   the process of deciding where you are,
   where you want to go and how you are
   going to get there!).

Step IV: An explanation of what strategic planning is and what it encompasses:

1) A process that involves planning that is considered long-range.

2) Usually the plan is for at least 5 years.

3) The process is comprehensive (All inclusive)

Step V: The researcher presents what strategic planning implies:

1) It implies both broad and specific factors will be considered!

2) It means that not only do you consider the very general factors such as goals, you also look at tactical factors such as specific ways to get things done.

Step VI: An explanation should be provided regarding how a strategic plan will benefit the school district:

1) Customer Satisfaction

2) Cost-benefit

3) Stakeholder input

4) Continuity of purpose

5) Accountability

6) Communication Effectiveness

7) A Structured Monitoring System

Step VII: A statement of the questions that strategic planning answers:

1) Where are we now?

2) Where do we want to be in the future?

3) How will we get there?

4) How do we measure our progress?

Step VIII: An explanation of the meaning of strategic planning terms are explained by using examples under the titles of Mega, Macro, Micro, Vision, Mission, and Goals:

Figure 3. Commonly used strategic planning terms and examples.

   Mega       Macro       Micro       Vision      Mission      Goals

   The        State      Managers     Ideal     Influenced    Provide
 Universe                                         By Many     Specific
                                                  Factors    Direction

The World   Community    Teachers    Desired     Generally    Mission
                                     Outcomes     Guides      Related

The Nation    School     Students   The Dream    Based on      Human
             District                For Your     purpose    Resources

All School     SDE        School    Attainable    Global      Required
Districts               cafeterias                           Objectives

 Economy    Regulatory  Cafeteria    Resource   Vertically    Required
             Agencies    Workers      Driven    Influential   Tactics

Step IX: Internal and external scanning, the assessment process, is explained below. This process is extremely important! Every detail of an operation that affects how well an organization operates a department should be examined; because the results may affect the entire plan. Figure 4 below presents the contacts between external and internal scanning.

Figure 4. Internal and external scanning.

Internal Scanning (Assessment)

Examines the current state of affairs within the
agency or department. Looks at personnel,
costs, operations, profits and processes and
provides a written assessment!!

External Scanning (Assessment)

Examines the current state of affairs regarding
things outside of the organization (e.g. Laws,
Governmental mandates, funding, Community
attitudes, demographic characteristics, etc.)

The results of internal and external scanning provide excellent data and subsequent information that helps the organization to:

1) Clarify future direction

2) Identify priorities

3) Develop strategies

4) Deal with change

5) Improve expertise

6) Enhance Teamwork

7) Build partnerships

8) Enhance relationships

Step X: Establish strategic direction:

Every organization must examine its vision and mission. Prior to completing any plan's process a reexamination of these components must take place. Figure 5 below outlines the strategic direction of the planning process involving the vision and mission statements. The vision and mission statements are vital to the strategic planning process by identifying the view of the stakeholders as a whole and the mission establishes who we are, where we want to go and how we will arrive at our final destination.

Figure 5. Strategic directions through the vision and mission

1) Strategic direction is established through
vision and mission statements.

2) Vision statements emerge from brainstorming,
examining a view of the realistic,
credible and attractive future.

3) The vision is the ideal of what the organization
or department will become.

4) The mission establishes who we are, who
we serve, for what purposes do we exist,
what issues were we established to address,
what are we trying to achieve, and
what makes us distinctive and unique.

Step XI: SWOTs (Andrews, 1971) are:

1) Strengths- refer to those aspects of an organization that are established and implemented to the extent of shareholders expectations and standards

2) Weaknesses-refer to elements within the study that do not meet current standards or stakeholder expectations.

3) Opportunities- refer to those activities that current resources would and could support that have not yet been thought of or accomplished

4) Threats-refer to elements of an organization that are not properly structured, identified, or categorized which cause termination of operations (Bryson, 1995).

Step XII: Developing planning areas:

1) These are the broad, general areas toward which effort is directed.

2) Examples of such areas for districts include, fiscal efficiency, acquisition of food, distribution, personnel, facilities, etc.

Step XIII: The term "Goals" is explained to the audience:

1) Goals are broadly stated purposes toward which ends are directed!

2) Goals are issues oriented!

3) Goals are specifically related to issues uncovered by scanning(Assessment)!

4) Goals focus actions toward clearly defined purposes!

5) Goals should be in harmony with your vision, mission, and value statement.

6) Goals should reflect your strategic issues and priorities.

7) Each goal should focus on a single issue.

8) Goals should provide a clear direction for action.

9) Goals should be long-range or unrestricted by time.

10) The total number of goals should be kept to a minimum.

XIV: Objectives are SMART (Drucker, 1954):

1) Specific

2) Measurable

3) Aggressive and Attainable

4) Results Oriented

5) Time-Bound

6) Quantifiable interim steps toward achieving a long-range vision and goals.

7) Linked directly to goals.

8) Measurable, time-based statements of intent.

9) Emphasized results at the end of a specific time period.

Criteria for well-written objectives: "S.M.A.R.T"

"S"--objectives identify Specific accomplishments that are desired, not the ways (strategies) to accomplish them. All objectives should be able to generate specific activities. An objective should be detailed enough to be understandable and give clear directions to others.

"M"--An objective must be Measurable. It is at this level that a clear linkage is made to performance measurement. To the extent that every goal has measurable objectives, the attainment of the goal itself can be measured.

"A"--Aggressive and Attainable--If objectives are to be standards for achievement, they must be challenging but realistic and within the ability of the organization to achieve!! They should not demand the impossible. This is in contrast to the vision, or even the goals, which may be beyond one organizations or department's capacity to achieve alone. Objectives require aligned, cooperative efforts among multiple departments or even organizations.

"R"--Objectives should specify Results or outcomes, not ways to accomplish them.

"T"--Time-bound because each objective should have a specific timeframe to be attained or accomplished (Freeman and Zackrison, 2001).

Step XV: Activities:

1) A process involving the accomplishment of a thing usually over a period of time, in stages, or with the possibility of repetition.

2) The most vigorous, productive, or exciting activity in a particular field or area.

3) Activities include the actual work associated with an objective.

4) This involves who, where, what, when, how many, how much, and how often until the objective is completed.

Step XVI: Developing timelines:

1) Five year period

2) Gantt Charts

3) Schedules


5) All of the above are scheduling tools that can guide the implementation of the plan.

Step XVII: Fiscal Considerations:

1) Determine the activity

2) Who will be in charge of the activity?

a. Will others also be involved

i. List the person in charge followed by others involved in accomplishing the activity

3) Determine the timeline (one to five years)

4) Will the activity begin and end in one year?

5) Will the activity take place over the course of the entire plan?

6) How much will this activity cost to implement over the time frame established?

Internal and external scanning yield SWOTs:

The determination of SWOTs focuses on issues such as the organization's structure, culture, employees, fiscal, human and material resources, and inside or outside factors affecting these elements.

Step XVIII: Internal scanning encompasses the following data:

1) Interviews

2) Surveys

3) Archival Data

4) Budget Information

5) Reports

6) Evaluations (Personnel and Program)

7) Audit Report recommendations

8) Other Internal Plans

Step XIX: External scanning encompasses the following data:

1) Federal and State Reports and Data bases

2) Legislation, Regulations, Executive Orders, Court Orders, Court Decisions, etc.

3) Standards of Professional Associations

4) Community Input

5) Media

6) Advisory and Other Boards

7) Research Center Information

Strategic planning requires specific sequence of actions:

   Strategic planning requires a specific
   sequence of activities. It is important
   for the planning process to use some
   variation of the steps prescribed by the
   process. Step one involves planning for
   the strategic planning process.

Implementing the Strategic Plan

Once the data has been gathered via internal and external scanning, put into order, and narratives written; then the document in its first draft should be taken to the committees and fully discussed. Revisions, if requested, should be made at this time. Once the draft has been revised and corrected it is once again presented to the committees as a whole. If the committees agree that the document meets with their approval, it is publicized and then presented to the public to be thoroughly discussed. During this phase of the presentation, acclimation may be requested of all present. Once the document has been acclaimed by the public, the superintendent should then present the strategic plan to the entire Board of Education with his recommendation to accept or reject the final draft. When the Board approves the final document, it may be printed and distributed. The document may then be place in strategic areas of the school district accessible by all who may wish to read it. Pamphlets should be made available listing the vision, mission, beliefs, areas, goals, and objectives. Pamphlets provide the opportunity to share the district's educational vision and other information with the entire community.

Strategic plans are usually written for five year periods: however, plans can be developed to encompass portions of the next five years. Timelines and objectives can be tailored to fit the district's needs, or even eliminated, with approval of leadership at the central office. The document hopefully will not just sit on a shelf gathering dust; therefore, it is imperative that a reporting basis be established on a monthly or quarterly basis throughout the entire timeline to assure that this is not the case, those assigned the responsibility for carrying out the activities should report the progress made on a regular basis.

An annual review of the document should take place in each of the five years. Review should include what is actually transpiring within the district and fine tuning to the plan implemented. A strategic plan, it must be remembered, is not merely a plan of the school district, but a plan of the whole community in which the district is located. It is a plan of the people and for the people.


Andrews. K. R. (1971). The concept of corporate strategy. Homewood, IL: Dow Jones-Irwin.

Bryson, J. M. (1995). Strategic planning for public and nonprofit organizations: A guide to strengthening and sustaining Organizational achievement. (Rev. ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Cook, W. J., Jr. Bill Cook's strategic planning for America's schools. Arlington. Virginia: American Association of School Administrators, 1988. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 303870). Retrieved May 6, 2004, from http://www.

Drucker, P. (1954). The practice of management. New York: Harpercollins Publishers.

Gay, L.R. (1996). Educational research: Competencies for analysis and applications (5th ed.). New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Leaner, A.L. (1999). Strategic planning essays. Unpublished manuscript. California State University, Northridge. Retrieved May 6, 2004 from

Hax, A. C. & Majluf, N. S. (1991). The strategy concept and process, A pragmatic approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Mintzberg, H. (1994). The rise and fall of strategic planning. New York, NY:

The Free Press. Retrieved May 6, 2004, from

Wall, S.J., Wall, S.R. (1995, Autumn). The evolution (not the death) of strategy. Organization Dynamics, 24-2, p.6.

Randy J. Lane, Ph.D., Fayetteville State University. Harold L. Bishop, Ph.D., University of Alabama. Linda Wilson-Jones, Ph.D., Fayetteville State University.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr. Randy J. Lane, Fayetteville State University, 255 Butler Bldg., 1200 Munchison Road, Fayetteville, NC 28301; Email:


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.