LENOX — Diversity. Equity. Inclusion.
That is a leading goal of the public school district’s five-year strategic plan through 2026 to be presented to the community next week.
The 50-page document, posted at lenoxps.org, results from a two-year effort led by School Committee Chairman Robert Vaughan, former principal of Morris Elementary School and a 38-year veteran of the district, with committee members Molly Elliot and Christine Mauro.
The Strategic Planning Subcommittee includes four community representatives, four parents of district students, and three Lenox Memorial Middle and High School faculty members.
Asked to identify some key points, Vaughan listed:
● Diversity, equity, inclusion, making the learning environment safe for all learners, so all students feel respected and valued;
● Mental health, assisting students and faculty in dealing with issues that might have originated with or been intensified by the pandemic;
● Curriculum and instruction, maintaining strengths and improving student offerings with increased attention to diversity, equity and inclusion;
● Planning for facilities upgrades and space needs, especially in the 1966 wing of the high school.
The School Committee will vote on adopting the strategic plan document at its remote Zoom meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday.
The Strategic Planning Subcommittee will offer a public presentation via Zoom at 7 p.m. April 29, with questions from the audience. To view the presentation visit tinyurl.com/ruessv96.
To help develop the plan, surveys were completed in late 2019 by 216 parents of current or former students; current faculty and staff; current or former students; and other community members who never had children in the town’s public schools.
Several forums were held, and the subcommittee considered recommendations from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, an accrediting group that visited and studied the middle and high school in December 2019.
Completion and rollout of the strategic plan was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A review of the survey responses yielded what the study describes as “emerging themes.”
Current strengths listed as areas to maintain include:
● Strong academic focus with a rigorous curriculum;
● High-quality teachers and small class size;
● Academic independence;
● Arts offerings, extracurricular opportunities, enrichment and after-school programs;
● Continuation of the independent Lenox Public Schools district;
● Maintaining a 40 percent limit on nonresident school-choice enrollment.
The document includes a lengthy list of areas targeted for improvement, including:
● More social-emotional supports, personnel and services;
● Upgraded facilities and expanded space, including classrooms for all faculty and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance throughout the buildings;
● Focus on conflict resolution among students, staff, as well as between students and staff;
● Improve discipline and increase student supervision;
● Improve collaboration and transparency among administrators;
● Increase superintendent tenure and superintendent commitment to delivering School Committee and community priorities;
● Implement initiatives and changes generated by students (doing more than just listening to student voices);
● Allot more collaboration time for staff, increase staff influence over professional development decisions and choices, and standardize a more practical staff evaluation program;
● Implement a state-approved civics curriculum;
● Streamline and upgrade district computing technologies, especially grading and grade reporting;
● Implement and create practices for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, as well as cultural competence throughout the district (administration, faculty, staff, students and parents/community) through a multiyear, multilevel practice with an accountability structure.
Other recommendations include an additional, licensed school nurse, adding early library hours at LMMHS, and marketing of the school and the town to young families.
Areas targeted for further exploration include a later school-day starting time at the middle and high school, a formal student advisory program, an emphasis on “deeper learning” and “authentic, independent” student work and activities, “skills and dispositions rather than just expertise,” and an apprenticeship approach for learning.
The strategic plan for 2021-26 is the third for the district. The first, in 1983-84, was directed by Superintendent Roland Miller, in response to declining enrollment districtwide.
In 2013, the School Committee hired PCG (Professional Consulting Group) to develop strategy for 2015-20. The plan was unveiled by Superintendent Timothy Lee in June 2015.
The committee decided to conduct its own strategic study without an outside consultant for the newly released five-year plan.
In its review of the past five years, the strategic plan document acknowledges that “the sense of belonging that is so important to all of our students has been elusive for Black, indigenous and people of color.”
In spring 2020, the study notes, it was pointed out that “many of our current and former students had experienced racism in one form or another, even as early as Kindergarten in one case.”
The report stated that “this is concerning and runs counter to a commitment to equity in education, much less the goal of a community that is welcoming and supportive of diversity as an educational imperative.”
According to the document, “the events of Spring 2020 from which the Black Lives Matter movement rose to national profile only amplifies the need to prioritize the goals of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in education at all levels across the district.”
On enrollment concerns, the study described an overall enrollment decline of 6 percent from 2009 to 2019, driven by the loss of about 150 resident students from 2009 to 2014.
But, it stated that since 2015, resident enrollment has stabilized and, with the addition of choice students capped at 40 percent, the current total of about 750, a 6 percent increase over five years, is “more than adequate to support an independent district.”
The strategic study also pointed out leadership issues, since the district has employed five superintendents over the past 12 years, including two interims.
Survey results from faculty and staff indicate 22 percent found fault with the accessibility of school leadership and 38 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed that “staff has a voice in the collaborative leadership of my school.”
The plan recommends empowering an elected Instructional Leadership Team to meet regularly and often with administrators to identify educational issues and come up with polices, programs and priorities that best address student needs. The result would be “an increase in cooperation and buy-in,” the plan asserts.
Some of the other major points covered by the study:
• The district will provide all students with “a diverse and highly-qualified faculty, inclusive curriculum, instruction that fosters respect for, and understanding of, diverse viewpoints and ways of knowing, and the academic supports needed to achieve equity of academic opportunities and maximum student engagement, enabling each student to excel academically, and thus be exceptionally prepared to pursue the future goals of their choice.”
• For the learning environment, the strategic study calls for the establishment of “clear expectations for inclusivity in the school culture and disagreement and debate in the curriculum, attached to concrete changes in tracking and measuring that ensure accountability.”
It also seeks to “ensure that students have a forum for deliberation, identifying and addressing challenges, and formalizing recommendations for the administration’s consideration and response.”
• “There is significant concern among the staff that the limitations of the physical building interfere with their ability to maintain the high quality of their work and to innovate as educators.” The recommended strategy is to develop and prioritize a plan for future capital projects “to ensure that facilities can meet the demands of an exceptional and innovative instructional program.”
• Technology needs require short-term and long-term evaluation to develop a calendar of improvements and expenses that balances school district priorities with likely organizational and financial town and state support.
• On financial support from town voters for the district’s financial needs, the School Committee will develop and approve annual budgets “that deliver excellent educational outcomes while working closely with the Town Manager to acknowledge year-to-year fiscal reality.”
Responsible annual budgets that the town can support within its financial capabilities will give educators “the necessary means to provide top-quality instruction for their students, a valuable asset for town residents, and an essential resource for attracting a diverse population of future taxpayers.”