Lenox School Committee laying groundwork for 2021-25 strategic plan

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LENOX — Although the public school district's academic year is winding down with just a few days of classes remaining and graduation set for June 9, members of the School Committee are setting their sights on a second strategic plan, for 2021-25.

The current plan, unveiled in June 2015, covered 2016-2020 and was completed after 22 months of work with the Public Consulting Group. It involved multiple surveys, focus groups, interviews with more than 1,200 participants and hundreds of hours of meetings by the School Committee, a 13-member Strategic Study Committee and five smaller subcommittees.

The follow-up effort, shepherded by School Committee Chairman Robert Vaughan with committee members Molly Elliot and Christine Mauro, is modeled on the PCG's approach, but most of the work will be done in-house.

The Strategic Planning 2021-25 Committee is seeking two parent representatives and two community members to help develop key strategies, starting with questions for a survey to be rolled out this fall for students, parents, faculty/staff and the wider community.

"We also wish to plan other avenues for getting meaningful feedback which might include focus groups and community forums," Vaughan said in a message to families of students at Morris Elementary School and Lenox Memorial Middle and High School.

"There will undoubtedly be opportunities to gather statistical data, categorize responses from surveys or focus groups, and determine with the full Strategic Planning Committee the key focus areas that will guide the School Committee and the school system for the next five years," Vaughan said.

Over the summer, the committee plans to meet once a month, starting in late June, and then every three to four weeks during the 2019-20 school year.

Vaughan is seeking letters of interest from potential parent and community representatives by June 10 via email to bobvaughan1@gmail.com or to the superintendent's office at Town Hall, 6 Walker St.

The district's current enrollment numbers are "robust," School Committee member Robert Munch said at a recent meeting. "We've met our targets in the strategic plan."

Projected enrollment for the upcoming school year is 759, including 263 nonresidents, or 42 percent of the total if all school-choice openings are filled. For the 2018-19 school year, enrollment was 756, according to the State Department of Education's database.

Under informal School Committee guidelines, the aim is to limit nonresident enrollment to 40 percent districtwide, and to 50 percent in each grade. At its June 10 meeting, the committee is expected to vote on officially adopting those guidelines, as requested by the state DOE in a recent advisory.

The current strategic plan, unveiled to the public in June 2015, a year later than originally scheduled, committed the town's public schools to remain an independent, municipal K-12 district unless other alternatives emerged, such as a shared superintendent with another town, such as Lee, or regionalization.

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None of those possibilities has developed, and the anticipated drop in enrollment turned instead into a slight upward spike, thanks to a modest school-choice increase from 38 percent districtwide.

At the public presentation, Timothy Lee, the superintendent at the time, cited a leadership goal to increase diversity in staff hiring, commenting that "we have a faculty and staff currently that is not diverse whatsoever, and for our increasingly diverse student body it would be advantageous to have more people from diverse backgrounds working in our schools."

He described the need for a formal strategic plan by noting that the district has gone through significant changes with fewer school-age children and major turnover in leadership, including five superintendents, three middle and high school principals, and three elementary school principals from 2005 to 2015.

Lee resigned as of June 30, 2018, to become principal of Muddy Brook Elementary School in Great Barrington. He was succeeded by Kimberly Merrick, initially with a one-year contract that the School Committee extended last December to three years through June 2021.

The current strategic plan, soon to begin its final year, emphasizes the individual goals of each student and a school culture that honors the learning environment, as well as a "respectful model of leadership that encourages broader participation of faculty and students," with a focus on communication, team-building, professional development and accountability by the leaders.

The goals, as summarized by Lee in the public presentation, include:

- Make the district "an employer of choice," so that "the best and brightest teaching talents out there are banging on our doors whenever we have an opening to fill."

- Maintain and improve academic performance, with an emphasis on developing students' individual talents, interests and goals to set the school district apart, with a "not one size fits all" approach to teaching and learning.

- Increase enrollment through a marketing plan in order to maintain a viable school district and continue a wide range of opportunities for students. Local students choosing to attend other schools would be asked what they're seeking that's not provided in Lenox.

- Convey pride in the schools through a culture that promotes students' sense of belonging, safety and ability to take risks in the classrooms.

Individualized learning and "higher-order thinking skills" also were specified among the academic excellence goals. Respectful "word, tone and behavior" by the leadership was promised, as well as enhancement of a cooperative spirit among faculty and staff and recognition of their achievements in order to promote professional excellence.

The 26-page document summarizing the strategic plan — it's the district's first since 1984 — also called for maintenance and improvement of academic performance as "one of the top school districts in Massachusetts" and commitment to a culture that "builds and conveys pride in our schools" while maintaining "a positive learning environment instilling belonging and building trust" among students, staff and families.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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