WEST NEWBURY — What will life be like for today's kindergartners when they graduate from high school in 2028? In a world that is rapidly changing, what skills and experiences must the public school system provide in order for children to become successful citizens 17 years down the road?
The Pentucket Regional School District has launched a strategic planning process it hopes will thoughtfully and deliberately develop the kind of schools that equip students with the tools needed to successfully compete in a world that will likely look very different than the one their parents faced after high school.
Led jointly by Assistant Superintendent William Hart and Principal Elaine Champion of the Bagnall Elementary School, the Pentucket Strategic Planning process got under way Wednesday with a one-hour visioning session for Groveland students. Throughout the month, similar sessions are planned with students and teachers across the district and with community members in all three Pentucket towns (see related story for schedule of visioning sessions). Both Hart and Champion have participated previously in strategic planning efforts in other school districts.
Hart said the goal of these meetings is to develop a clear vision of "the enduring strengths" of the school district and what "the community holds sacred about our schools." Additionally, it is important to start defining and supporting those educational aspects that will be key to a quality education in a future that will be vastly different from today.
Schools need to provide kids with necessary content knowledge. But at the same time, schools also must work to develop essential 21st Century skills — or "Habits of Learning" that young adults in the United States will need in order to compete with their counterparts from other countries in this global economy, Hart said. Pentucket has identified five key Habits of Learning: thinking, communication, collaboration, independence and creative exploration.
Perhaps a traditional education with all "the bells and whistles" needs to be re-examined, Hart said. For example, school leaders must be "very deliberate" around choices made in technology and not just fund "technology for technology's sake." What will the physical structures of the schools need to look like in the future? What kind of strategies should be put in place to ensure Pentucket has the leaders it needs to implement these long-term plans? What type of financial game plan will best support the changes needed?
"The question is, what do we think will need to change over the next decade to ensure our kids are highly successful both personally and professionally," Hart said.
Implementing this kind of long-term plan involves years of gradual adjustments to the curriculum, instructional strategies and educational experiences in order to help students grow over time, Hart said. But he said he is a "huge believer" in the wealth of wisdom the community will bring to the process if everyone tackles the task together as a team.
Hart's aim is to create a Strategic Planning Committee of no more than 15 members that offers a balance of perspectives among administrators, teachers, students, parents and other community members from all three district towns — Groveland, Merrimac and West Newbury. Hart stressed that this working group would not be "a bunch of rubber-stamp folks."
Recommendations coming out of the strategic planning visioning sessions this month will be divided into what he described as "three to five umbrella categories." Each category will be assigned to one focus group made up of about 15 people from the Pentucket community. The focus groups will work to research current, best practices for the topic of their particular subgroup. Their task is to develop a reasonable set of mutually agreed upon goals, objectives and indicators of success, Hart said. He envisions these focus groups making presentations to the Strategic Planning Committee, getting feedback from the committee and then reconvening the to refine their recommendations.
Eventually, forums will be scheduled for the public to review a final draft of the Strategic Plan document, after which it goes to the School Committee for final approval. Once in place, the long-term plan can be used by the school board to develop its annual budget.
Hart admits that decisions around the possible reallocation of budget resources can be painful, but said it will help if the process to develop the plan is as comprehensive and inclusive of all stakeholders in the Pentucket community as is possible, "so people feel like they have been part of the vision."
"That will help us to stay focused on what we've all agreed collectively is important and what we hope to accomplish," Hart said.