Choosing where We Want To Go, by Warren Galletti
Editor’s Note: This is the second of a five-part series on the Point Arena schools written by District Superintendent Warren Galletti. This column introduces the school district’s Strategic Plan, a three-year plan encompassing 2019-2021.
One of my first jobs when I returned to Point Arena as District School Superintendent was to develop a strategic plan to guide our progress in making needed changes at our schools.
Our Strategic Plan is modeled after a plan for "Mendocino Colleges," which I helped develop when I was County Superintendent. We started from scratch because they didn’t have a strategic plan. Our Strategic Plan is modeled after theirs because our schools have similar goals and needs.
Goal #1: Implement an educational system that prepares students for success in College and/or Career.
Goal #2: Create a safe, orderly, productive, positive, healthy learning environment that cherishes diversity and collaboration.
Goal #3: Engage our Parents, Guardians and Community in a healthy/collaborative working partnership that supports the growth and success of our students.
Each of the three goals has specific strategies designed to achieve the goal, plus metrics to measure progress. Catherine Chin, our Business Manager, monitors how many dollars we’re spending on each metric.
But a strategic plan works only as long as you keep it as a living document and not just as a piece of paper or wall decoration. Let me tell you how our District Strategic Plan was developed and how we’re using it to guide our decision-making.
When I arrived last year, we didn’t have a workable strategic plan. An attempt had been made three years ago, but it looked more like a narrative than a strategic plan, “Point Arena is located….”
Self review, the crux of any plan, can’t happen without having all stake holders involved. Instead, the old plan was written without consulting the stakeholders. It was evident the community, teachers and students were not involved in the process.
The process for developing our current plan was modeled on the process for developing strategic plans for the school districts in the five counties of Region 1 of the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association (CCSESA), which implements the polices of the California Department of Education. [Editor: the other four counties in CCSESA Region 1 are Humboldt, Del Norte, Sonoma, and Lake.]
I participated in the development of those plans as Mendocino County Superintendent of Schools. We held dozens of community meetings and worked with staff and outside consultants to help develop those strategic plans. I learned a lot from the process.
For one thing, the five counties in Region 1 are alike. They have similar economies and histories, and their populations are similar in demographic terms -- ethnic diversity, income and education levels. Sonoma stood on its own a little more, with more resources. Lake County had many more issues, including natural disasters, than we have.
But one common thread in all the county strategic plans was staff recruitment and retention. The number one cause of losing employees is housing, as it is here in Point Arena. Other similarities were shortage of special education and mathematics teachers, absenteeism, and transportation. (I will discuss these issues further in a future column.)
The last school district I worked with was Mendocino. We started from scratch because Mendocino didn’t have a strategic plan. Basically, we have used the Mendocino Schools model for our strategic plan because the county and Point Arena schools have similar goals and needs.
Our goals, #1 and #3 are similar to Mendocino’s.
What sets Point Arena’s Strategic Plan apart from Mendocino’s, and from the plans of the other five counties in Region 1, is Goal #2. Our Goal #2 reflects a huge amount of community input.
It’s the result of a series of community meeting where Lisa Riboli, our School Secretary, took detailed notes. I’d look at these notes over and over again. There were also a lot of individual meetings, formal meetings with the School Board, questionnaires mailed to local homes, and ICO articles asking for ideas. At times, it felt like I was trying to corral cattle in a windstorm, but I knew there were important ideas there.
One thing really stood out: school climate and culture. Employees wanted to be excited about being at work, and about working together. They wanted to model this idea of positive behavior and have it rub off on the student body. Maybe it could improve attendance, student motivation, and behavior.
I believe this culture piece is huge. It’s the foundation of a healthy school district!
As a goal, Goal #2 is unusual. It was a community goal reflecting more community input. It came straight from the community meetings.
I heard over and over again: culture, without positives, is not going to enhance the education of our students because, if staff members don’t enjoy working together, students will sense negative vibes, and behavior won’t be positive. Seeing negative behavior in adults trickles down into the student body.
Our Wellness Program, which is another part of Goal #2, came out of these community meetings. So did focused plans to deal with alternatives to suspensions such as “restorative practices,” which teaches how to improve and repair relationships between people and communities. This is a program I developed and implemented in Ukiah’s schools where it helped to resolve and avoid conflicts there.
You can see the change in culture even in small examples. Recently, Willits’ Superintendent Mark Westerburg told me this story. He’d attended a tournament here last year, and then again this January 12.
He said something like: “I can’t believe the change in student behavior. Last year, I got off the bus at the gym and I heard the F bomb several times. Today, when I got off, I stopped to thank two students for helping me with my athletic equipment, and they said, “you’re welcome!”