As students and districts around the country begin the new school year, we are excited to share an inspiring story of how the School District of Newberry County, South Carolina, in partnership with Education Elements, is launching this school year with a powerful new Strategic Plan. There are two key lessons worth sharing which helped drive purposeful change and set a course for a clear and coherent journey ahead.
1. Empower your strategic process from transactional to transformational by enlisting more constituents
Under the leadership of Superintendent Alvin Pressley and Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Dr. Lynn Cary, the 5,800 student, 14 school South Carolina district underwent a transformative shift in their strategic planning process. Starting with the "why" behind a strong strategic plan and acknowledging the shortcomings of previous approaches, they committed to re-writing their playbook. They re-envisioned the process from end-to-end, focusing on what they wanted to be true not only of the ultimate plan but also of the process itself. As a result of this deep reflection, gone were the days of transactional planning focused solely on compliance. Instead, the district collaborated with Education Elements to create a purposeful and inclusive planning process that leveraged a cross-functional steering committee. This committee of teachers, principals, parents, community members, staff, and district leaders helped build consensus and investment in the plan. The 30-person committee split into three teams and were assigned a district priority for the next 3-5 years. We see constituent input in every aspect of the plan, from the rewriting of the mission statement to determining the priority initiatives for the first year. Additionally, the committee examined each decision point in terms of its alignment with the District's mission. This alignment step fosters easier understanding of the “why” behind district decisions, allowing those responsible for implementing the plan to understand the underpinning of what they are being asked to do. A member on the committee shared “I feel that the resulting strategic plan gives all members of our community a clear understanding of our areas of focus that will ultimately get everyone closer to accomplishing our vision for the School District of Newberry County.”
2. Make the approach more equitable by amplifying constituent voices
Education Elements and the School District of Newberry County recognized the importance of amplifying constituent voices in the strategic planning process. They embraced a democratic approach, ensuring that all constituent groups were heard and represented. By surveying nearly 3,000 students, staff, and families, the district moved away from letting only a few voices dictate the plan. Instead, they fostered collaboration, inclusivity, and a sense of ownership among all constituents. After reviewing and synthesizing the survey data into key learnings and themes, they engaged in a visioning session to develop the district’s mission, vision, and priorities. This resulted in more community buy-in and excitement about the path forward for the district. One member of the steering team shared “I was most impressed by the collegial atmosphere of the planning sessions. Everyone had a seat at the table. Our mantra of "One District, One Team, One Mission" was evident every step of the way as we worked hard to get every aspect of the strategic plan focused and aligned with the community feedback we received.”
This partnership exemplifies the power of collaboration in transforming educational experiences. By transitioning from a transactional planning process to a purposeful and inclusive one which amplified constituent voices, and kept the District's core mission at the forefront, the School District of Newberry County is embarking on a new era of educational excellence.