Strategic Planning for Educational Excellence

Article excerpt

STRATEGIC PLANNING IS ESSENTIALLY A PROCESS that enables an organization or unit within an organization to chart where it is going over the next three to five years, how it is going to get there, and how to know if it, in fact, got there. When Associate Superintendent Janet Addair and the Orange County Public Schools Career and Technical Education (CTE) Department embarked on the development of its strategic plan in December 2008, her belief was that a sound strategic plan is the single most important element in achieving educational excellence.

This premise in no way diminished the significance of faculty, administrators and support personnel, appropriate curriculum and instruction, adequate facilities and services, a supportive climate, and other crucial areas. Long-range planning, however, could provide the unique opportunity to view the system holistically, with a principle focus toward the whole organization rather than isolated and seemingly independent components.

Addair also had several important goals. First and foremost, the plan should guide educators toward improvement and excellence. Such a plan must be operational and sensitive to community and district-specific needs--not just a collection of platitudes and jargon that would never provide real direction. Secondly, it was essential that stakeholders be involved throughout the planning process. In fact, those persons involved should include not only CTE personnel, but also other district educators, students, business leaders and government officials. Additionally, the leadership did not want to spend months in a formal needs assessment and analysis of areas potentially in need of improvement. The associate superintendent had conducted preliminary evaluations and was already aware of several areas where change and development might be required.

After a brief period of pre-planning, the CTE department initiated its planning activities guided by a process termed "Breakthrough Thinking" under the direction of William Bozeman. "Breakthrough Thinking" is a systems planning process developed by Gerald Nadler, professor emeritus of systems engineering at the University of Southern California. The strategies employed in "Breakthrough Thinking" recognize that leaders and managers have been instructed in planning and problem-solving processes derived from classical scientific methods. While such processes can be invaluable for certain activities, notably research and systems analysis, their very nature (that emphasizes examination of components) can hinder one's seeing the complete and true picture. "Breakthrough Thinking" is an alternative to the classical problem-solving method, offering a systematic approach to planning, problem solving, change and improvement. The strategy involved five intuitive phases:

1. Purpose determination. What specific function will the solution

system achieve based on beliefs and values of the stakeholders?

2. Possible solution generation. How can the function be achieved if no constraints with regard to resources, time, feasibility, or others, are forced upon the design?

3. Target plan selection. This phase shapes the ideas from Phase 2 into a somewhat idealized plan or solution system.

4. Details specification. The purpose of this phase is to develop details of the target system and to accommodate exceptions to the rule.

5. Implementation and evaluation. Action plans may include the development of operational components, specification of timelines and performance criteria, and consideration of political forces.

A set of general principles guided the planning process and strategy:

* Ascertain the purpose of what is being done. Continually ask: "Why ...?" and "What is the purpose of that?"

* Direct efforts toward the development of the "ideal solution" or "solution after next" rather than toward repairing what exists.

* Devise a target plan at which to aim. …