After 16 years, Dist. 97 decides it's time for a new strategic plan

Supt. pledges heavy community involvement

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By BOB SKOLNIK

Last week District 97 decided to hire a Texas firm to produce the district's first strategic plan since 1989. The school board selected MGT of America to conduct the strategic plan and will pay the Austin, Texas based firm $74,160 for its services.

The board had interviewed four firms vying for the contract. MGT won out over Cambridge Associates which did the district's last plan 16 years ago. Some board members favored hiring Cambridge this time also, but MGT won out primarily because of its stress on inclusion and community involvement. MGT is a consulting firm that specializes in serving non-profits.

"I liked MGT because they had a wealth of experience doing strategic planning, not just for school districts, but for a variety of organizations," said board member Sharon Patchak-Layman Monday. "We in education sometimes become insular. They also have a lot of experience in financial activities. They have a lot of broad experience. They were very open in their process."

MGT will conduct focus groups, send out surveys and review the district's operations in all areas. The planning process will begin soon and the district hopes to have its plan completed by May.

Dr. Constance Collins, the district's new superintendent, said the planning process will rely heavily on community input.

"It will involve the participation of the stakeholders in the community to determine the priorities and determine the direction that we take for the next three to five years," said Collins. "It will help us reconnect and to identify what the priorities are in the community as we go forward. It's an exciting time and we're looking forward to the community involvement."

The strategic plan comes at an important time for the district. There is a new superintendent in charge and district spending has outstripped annual tax revenues for a number of years. The district has been slowly, but steadily, drawing down its reserves. The district faces difficult budget choices in the near future and it will be looking to the strategic plan to identify what programs are most valuable to the community.

"The fiscal environment is changing, it's tight," said school board President Carolyn Newberry Schwartz. "We need to know what the priorities of the community are."

Board members are hopeful that the strategic planning process will involve new residents of Oak Park whose children are not yet of school age.

"My quest for the strategic plan is that we have a healthy representation of pre-school families," said Patchak-Layman. "We have a lot of families with young children who have moved into Oak Park recently."

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