Managing Your District Strategic Plans

By Nora Carr

Touted as roadmaps to the future, the typical strategic plan represents months of work and the active engagement of dozens of staff members, parents, and community constituents.

Despite this hefty investment, however, many plans are launched publicly with great fanfare and quickly forgotten. Left on shelves in three-ring binders or on rarely visited sections of the website, the tomes are dusted off each year as part of an annual progress report to the board.

Meanwhile, school-based staff do what they’ve always done, knowing this latest change mandate from the central office is likely to last only as long as the superintendent’s contract -- an average of only three to four years for urban leaders.

The same is true for business and industry. Even before the economic meltdown, statistics show most new businesses in the U.S. fail within five years. Nearly 70 percent of IT system overhauls fail to live up to expectations.

Why? Creating a vision is easy; creating real change is grueling work. For a people-intensive business like education, change is possible only if administrators win over the hearts, minds, and behaviors of their employees.

In other words, the so-called “soft stuff” of employee communications, organizational climate and culture, staff training, and people management must be addressed before you see improvements in the “hard stuff” -- better student outcomes and achievement.

Sadly, these issues tend to get short shrift, especially when budgets start crashing. Yet real change requires real attention to people, not just data. 

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