Above image from WJCL
In the 2015-16 school year, Chatham County Schools launched “Flight Plan 2020,” a strategic plan designed to guide the district’s growth and initiatives over a five-year period.
The plan was designed over the course of one year with input from more than 1,600 community members and stakeholders through surveys, focus groups and planning sessions.
The final product, Flight Plan 2020: Charting a Course for Future Success, describes four “destinations,” or overall areas for improvement, as well as strategies for accomplishing those goals and milestones to track the district’s progress.
Though some key educational goals are just shy of the goals, now, as the strategic plan heads into its fifth and final year, the district is on track to meet almost all of its milestones by the desired deadline of June 30, 2020.
The four destinations of the plan are:
- Student Learning and Outcomes, which focuses mainly on student academic performance and curriculum;
- Communication and Community Engagement, which aims to establish better internal and external communication practices;
- Growth and Future Planning, which prepares the district for its projected growth; and
- Supporting Quality Teachers, Administrators and Staff, which improves professional development and training for faculty and staff.
John McCann, the district’s spokesman, said that major strides have been taken in all four destination areas – which is key as Chatham continues to grow and tries to improve schools that have historically not met certain standards across the vast county.
In the Student Learning and Outcomes destination, the district completed its expansion of the one-to-one laptop initiative and provided every student in seventh through 12th grades with a take-home laptop, and provided younger grades with technology to use in the classroom.
Although not all studies have agreed on the benefits of more tech in the classroom, the district is buying into the side that it can help propel students forward.
For example, the district’s previous one-to-one initiative only served high school students and cost $760,000. In summer 2018, the district adopted a new model of laptop, Dell Chromebooks, and redistributed the district’s existing stock of technology to younger grades for use throughout the school day—marking the first time that the district had sufficient devices to fulfill the one-to-one initiative districtwide.
“That allows learning to continue outside of the classroom,” McCann said. “It helps students who might not be able to afford their own device, which would put them behind academically.”
In the Communication and Community Engagement destination, McCann said that the district’s public information department has increased its use of social media to communicate with the Chatham community and made its branding more consistent.
In 2016, the year that Flight Plan 2020 was adopted, the department won no awards from the North Carolina School Public Relations Association. This year, in the final year of the strategic plan, the department took home eight awards, including a “best of the best” award in the image/graphic design category.
This, while seemingly a minor thing, is actually a huge indicator of how well the system is communicating with key stakeholders in the community – from parents and taxpayers to the teachers and kids enrolled there.
Still, some goals of the strategic plan likely won’t be finished by the June deadline. But McCann said that at least some action has been taken on all of the strategies and milestones.
One milestone of the Student Learning and Outcomes destination is for 68 percent of students to perform at or above proficiency on the English II end-of-course assessment. As of last school year, only 63 percent of students achieved proficiency.
Although that’s three percentage points higher than the state average, McCann knows there is plenty of work ahead.
“If we only have a certain percentage of students performing at proficiency, then what about the rest of the students?” he said. “We want to do even more.”
Many test score goals, however, have been achieved under the strategic plan.
Almost 69 percent of students in third through fifth grades are now proficient in math—four points higher than the plan was aiming for. Over 64 percent of sixth through eighth graders achieved proficiency on the end-of-grade reading test—more than seven points higher than the goal set forth in Flight Plan.
One way that the district is improving student performance is by establishing common instructional frameworks and instructional priorities.
Part of the Student Learning and Outcomes destination, said McCann, is the common framework that provides teachers with resources to help student success and encourage them to go above and beyond to help students with instruction.
As the district wraps up its current strategic plan, it is looking forward to its next one, which will launch after Flight Plan ends in June.
McCann said that, like the process for Flight Plan, the next strategic plan will crowdsource input from more than 1,600 community members and stakeholders.
The new plan will build off of Flight Plan and include items that were not fully achieved through the current plan, as well as prepare Chatham for its projected growth and development in the coming years.
“It’s a sustained effort,” McCann said. “It will show buy-in from the school community, the teachers there, but also the outside community, the parents.”