Collier School District looks for input in developing strategic plan

— When it comes to the Collier County School District, the community has never been shy about voicing its opinion.

Now that Collier County School District leaders are looking for a little direction, they are asking for some help from their friends.

The Collier County School District launched a long-range strategic planning and community engagement process, which will guide the district’s work for the next three years.

The Collier County School Board held a strategic planning meeting Oct. 1 to discuss some of the major areas of interest to board members and district officials.

“We had to write down our top three issues,” said Superintendent Dennis Thompson. “It was interesting because, as they put them together, there were common themes that came up, even if we expressed them in different ways.”

Some of the items discussed related to curriculum, grading, budget and personnel, Thompson said.

The district then sent invitations to 40 community members for input and to help narrow the ideas that will be included in the three-year plan.

The School Board approved a $198,500 contract with Washington D.C.-based Collaborative Communications Group to be a facilitator and organizer of the process. Collaborative Communications Group was the organization that worked with The Education Foundation of Collier County to develop its Connect Now document. Connect Now was developed after The Education Foundation and Collective Communications Group held more than 50 community conversations, often in homes around the county, to discover the community’s shared priorities for education and improving community life.

David Moore, vice president of the Collective Communications Group, which worked with The Education Foundation to put the Connect Now report together, has said the process was about going to where people are; asking different questions; listening; responding not with programs, but with more engagement; exercising leadership; and to keep asking questions and listening.

The Collier County School Board is looking to do something similar, Thompson said.

Community members who received invitations to participate came from the Connect Now process or recommendations to School Board members and represent all of the geographic areas of Collier County, Thompson said. He said about 34 of those invited had responded that they would be involved in the strategic planning process.

“We wanted to make sure we had a geographic and ethnic balance with representatives from each area of the county,” he said.

Collier County School Board Chairwoman Pat Carroll and School Board member Julie Sprague will host a planning committee meeting with the invited community members from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 26, at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Administrative Center, 5775 Osceola Trail. The committee will meet again on Nov. 18 for a second planning committee meeting.

Attempts to reach Carroll and Sprague were unsuccessful Thursday.

Thompson said the committee’s meetings will develop a vision, mission and beliefs for the project. He said from December to March, the committee members will then hold community conversations and work to develop a plan. The hope, Thompson said, is to present the final document to the board in April 2010 and have the School Board accept the final version of the document in June.

Thompson reiterated that this process is not something unique to the Collier County School District. School districts in Orlando, Mobile, Ala., and Nashville, Tenn., have had similar programs.

“We want to know what does the community want and how we can play a part in that,” he said.

But Thompson admitted the task might not be easy. The district also has to deal with No Child Left Behind and state directives, which he said could conflict with what the community wants for the district.

“I look forward to their input,” he said. “We are going to have to tackle some significant issues.”

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