District 97’s long-awaited strategic plan will be officially unveiled to the public tonight at a special school board meeting. The plan was released last month after more than a year’s worth of work by district officials and various committees. It includes a number of specific, ambitious goals, including district-wide all-day kindergarten, improving communication between school and home, and a referendum in the not-too-distant future.

School board members juggled their August meeting schedule to include one session focused primarily on the plan. The board’s regular meeting was held last night.

Tonight’s meeting starts at 6 p.m. at district headquarters, 970 Madison St., and will include a hearing on the district’s ’07-’08 budget.

The bulk of the four-page plan, which is available on the district’s website (www.op97.k12.il.us) features seven strategies addressing such issues as academic achievement, finances, diversity and communication. The plan has a total of 71 goals listed within those seven strategies.

The board scheduled tonight’s meeting to both present the plan to the public and to get community feedback. Another special meeting is scheduled for next Wednesday, Aug. 22, to formally adopt the plan. The board and administration are hoping to pass the plan before the start of the coming school year.

Officials said that while it is too early to discuss specific initiatives, the development and implementation stage will begin once school starts.

Dist. 97 officials said teachers, staff and principals will develop initiatives for implementing the various goals.

A group of community action teams have met since January to develop goals for each strategy, finishing up a first draft of the plan in May. The draft was presented to the board and, following a revision, a final draft was released by the district in July.

All-day K, communication top goals

Many of the goals were developed to address specific parent concerns, said Supt. Constance Collins.

Among the goals under the academic achievement strategy, for instance, is establishing all-day kindergarten throughout the district.

“As we’re taking a look at ensuring high academic achievement, we know that all-day kindergarten is one way to do that-that is something the community wanted,” she said.

Parents have also expressed displeasure with poor communication from their schools and from administration. Another achievement goal calls for creating an ombudsman office for parents, which, according to officials, would help provide information to parents.

Collins was unaware of such an office at other districts, but said at her previous districts in Zion and Grand Rapids, there was a coordinator who worked with parents.

Dist. 97 school board President Michelle Harton, also a member of the academic achievement action team, said the ombudsman office would be for all parents.

“This will provide a vehicle to give parents someone they can communicate to, and help get them engaged in the process,” she said.

Two achievement goals also call for increasing instruction time in core subjects to no less than 50-60 minutes per day on average at the middle schools, and ensuring a similar instruction time at the elementary schools.

Referendum … down the line

Under the finance strategy, the plan calls for passing a tax referendum. No date and time for passing one, however, is stated.

The district backed off a planned referendum this past April in response to voter outrage over high tax bills. District officials have previously said a referendum would either overlap with, or be included in, the strategic plan.

“We viewed it as our time to go for a referendum this year, but we knew that when people received their tax bills that there was no way they would be able to absorb another hike from the elementary school district,” Collins said, adding that the district explored other revenue-generating avenues, including a deal with the village to sell its Madison headquarters to the village, which would then lease it back to the district over time.

Concerning the strategy dealing with promoting diversity, one goal addresses the need to develop highly-qualified and diverse staff.

According to the district’s 2006 State School Report Card, of its 356 teachers, 14.3 percent are black, 2.8 percent Hispanic, and approximately 2.5 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander and Native American. More than 80 percent are white.

Collins said hiring and recruiting more quality minority faculty had already been a priority for the district. Harton added that it is also a board goal.

“Having a diverse faculty helps students affirm their identity,” she said, alluding to research on the subject.

“To say that we want a faculty and staff that reflects diversity-we’re not just saying that because it makes us feel better. There are people doing research on this very thing.”

Collins said the district plans to create a mentoring system for new minority faculty, also listed as a strategy goal in the plan.

Another goal under diversity is creating a diversity leadership network. This group, according to district officials, would consist of teachers from each building, along with those in special education and multicultural education, addressing issues around diversity.

The group would work with the broader school community to establish district-wide diversity goals-which is also listed as a specific strategic plan goal-at the school buildings.

A guiding document

District officials said the entire plan will guide the district for years to come. The district’s last plan was developed in 1989, but officials admit it did not have a long-lasting impact.

Collins insisted this current plan won’t “end up on the shelf.”

She said the district will monitor the plan regularly during school years. She and other officials note that the community will help keep the district focused.

“I don’t believe in any great plan sitting on the shelf,” Collins said. “This gives us a blueprint of where we’re going and what work needs to be done. This is the work of the district for the next 3-5 years.”

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