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What is the Missing Step in Your District’s Strategic Plan?

By: Justin de Leon on October 18th, 2017

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What is the Missing Step in Your District’s Strategic Plan?

School Districts  |  Strategic Planning

All districts have strategic plans. For many districts, they are the most expensive document created in a given year. Getting to a final draft usually takes several months or more and requires the time of many staff and community members. There are committees, meetings, surveys, reviews, discussions and multiple rounds of revision.

While senior district leadership and director level staff members might revisit the strategic plan monthly or quarterly to check-in on progress and make adjustments, school leadership teams and their staffs often remain in the dark. They do not know what is on the roadmap, what upcoming meetings and milestones to expect, what actions they have to take, or what resources they need to fully understand and bring the initiative to life in their classrooms.

There seems to be a missing step - which is making the strategic plan easy to understand, actionable and dynamic. These are often very dense documents, with multiple tables, charts, and roadmaps. They are updated a few times each year at best. Their purpose (which is not always achieved) is to make the high-level initiatives, goals, and key actions concrete and available to all stakeholders in the district. However, a strategic plan is a guiding document, it is not designed to manage the day-to-day work of implementing any given initiative. And yet for the goals laid out in the plan to be realized, and for the initiatives to be successful, districts need a way to bring their plans to life and track their success.

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What can be done to improve this situation? How do you make the strategic plan visual and actionable? How do you make it clear to schools across a district what the roadmap for the initiative looks like, what exactly is expected of them, and what progress (and success) looks like?

Fortunately, there are a number of approaches and tools that districts can use to make each initiative more visual, make the work more clear, and communicate progress. They are used, to varying degrees, in districts across the country. Some districts might use a mix of these approaches and tools. Each one has benefits and tradeoffs, but if used thoughtfully and consistently, can work just fine. Below is a quick overview of some of these approaches and tools:

  • Creating a Spreadsheet
    • Create a custom roadmap or project plan using Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets
    • Benefits: Highly customizable and most districts have licenses or accounts for these tools
    • Tradeoffs: Initial setup can be time-consuming and requires internal knowledge of constructing and maintaining this type of spreadsheet
  • Using a project management software application
    • Basecamp, Trello, Asana, Smartsheet
    • Benefits:  Built-in workflows, robust feature sets, integrations with other apps
    • Tradeoffs: Requires high degree of customization and cannot configure to support district context (i.e., create a district, add schools, organize schools into groups or cohorts)
  • Having a Project management office or project manager position
    • Medium and large school districts will often have this role or office
    • Benefits: Professional expertise and dedicated person/team to update project management documents
    • Tradeoffs: May be too expensive for smaller districts

Your district may have a tight alignment between the central office and each school, with a roadmap for each initiative and the resources and action plans needed to execute. If that is the case, well done! If this is not the case for your district, or you feel there has to be a better way than what you are currently doing, we may be able to help.  

Education Elements works closely with district teams to bring strategic plans to life--not just building the plan but implementing it too.  This looks like selecting (or building) project management tools. But, more importantly, it looks like collaborating with you define roles and accountabilities that make it clear and obvious who owns each of implementing the plan.  It looks like establishing a transparent mindset and procedures for sharing information so that stakeholders have up to date information to inform decision making.  

Getting the initial plan in place is a critical step, but it is only the beginning.  District teams must take time to define what bringing it to life looks like, how this will happen and who will do it.  To learn more about how Education Elements can help make the vision of your strategic plan a reality, send a note to: send a note to info@edelements.com.





About Justin de Leon

Justin de Leon is a Partner and joined Education Elements in 2012. He began his career in education teaching English at Brownsville Middle School in Miami-Dade. In his first year, he shifted from a traditional model to a blended model as a way to personalize and saw management issues disappear and achievement increase. During several school years, Justin worked with Teach for America to provide mentoring, coaching and professional development to ELA corps members. After moving to the west coast, he gained experience in the charter world while teaching ELA at KIPP Heartwood Academy in San Jose, CA.

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