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October 26, 2022

Sarah Mathias

How Education Leaders are Achieving Their Goals: District Strategy

5 minutes
Effective strategic planning is critical for achieving your district's goals. But to successfully tackle issues like aging infrastructure, inequitable school boundaries and LCAP engagement, your community—educators, staff, students, and parents—need to be strategically aligned.
Align your community for successful strategic planning in your district.
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Creating effective district strategic plans

When creating a strategic plan, getting your community aligned through engagement and collaboration is key. Districts that prioritize community involvement and alignment see benefits like improved attendance, improved student performance, stronger school reputations, and positive relationships between staff, students, and families.
“We can say to the community, not only did we hear you, not only did we respond to you and build a strategic plan around this, but you can literally find your own language in here to show the work that we’re doing.”Dr. Quintin Shepherd, Victoria ISD
Involving and aligning your community from the start creates buy-in and robust, supported strategic plans.

Reimagining Bristol Public School District

When Bristol Public Schools (BPS) needed to address aging facilities and inequitable classrooms, they launched an Exchange to discover their community’s needs. With those insights, the board proposed a plan to better serve students, solve the problem of outgrowing space, and offer an equitable learning environment.

Early community input will help BPS move forward and thrive with a supported, comprehensive strategy.

Survey questions allow districts to isolate supported thoughts

Rather than conducting surveys at each school, or hosting 14 separate town halls, BPS got everyone involved in one discussion. By using survey questions in their Exchange, BPS drilled down into thoughts from specific schools and prioritized aspects of their plan, particularly around school closures, accordingly.

This Exchange saved BPS hours of planning, meetings, and analysis while making it easier and more convenient for their community to weigh in.


Reconfiguring boundaries for equitable learning outcomes

Reconfiguring boundaries is critical to equitable learning outcomes. The U.S. has more than 13,000 geographically defined public school districts, many of which were drawn decades ago.

School boundaries can sustain inequities and affect learning outcomes, so small boundary changes can create more integrated districts and increase opportunities.

But reconfiguring boundaries often means families leaving schools they’ve attended for generations—it can involve dealing with angry crowds at school board meetings. By consulting the community early on, leaders ensure more support for the final plan, even from people who don’t agree.

ThoughtExchange helps redraw school attendance areas equitably

The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 buses hundreds of Black and Hispanic/Latinx students out of their own neighborhoods, based on boundaries drawn up in 1966 before schools were desegregated.

To address equity concerns, District 65 started a multi-year Student Assignment Project, using ThoughtExchange to consult their community.

District 65’s new plan, supported by community input, includes redrawn boundaries, a more equitable magnet school process, and a new school in the Fifth Ward.

Differences feature reveals common ground

Common ground is key to getting buy-in for successful strategic plans, especially for polarizing issues.

Using ThoughtExchange’s Differences feature, District 65 could immediately see where community participants agreed or disagreed. While the community disagreed on the specifics about where schools and boundaries should be, the common ground was obvious: Walkability and community were key.

Starting from that place of agreement, participants could more readily understand boundary and school placements that would allow more children to walk to school in their own communities.

LCAP engagement and reporting efficiency

California schools may spend at least three months engaging and aligning parents, educators, employees, and the community on their district’s goals and strategies for their Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). With ThoughtExchange, that consultation process can be cut down to a week. Plus, built-in analytics and reporting features make analysis easy.

Saddleback Valley USD cut weeks from its LCAP process

Saddleback Valley USD used ThoughtExchange to ensure they had an authentic community voice and clear focus in their plans, while “saving weeks and weeks of work” on their LCAP engagement.
"Prior to ThoughtExchange, when we would do community surveys, we had someone who would spend almost two months processing, analyzing, and charting the data. …The Exchange takes care of that for us now!"Michael Gomez, Ed.D. – Saddleback Valley USD

Themes feature helps SVUSD translate thoughts into action

Themes help organize and rank participants’ responses, quickly revealing the topics the community cares about most. SVUSD’s district coordinator noted that he’s “able to go through the thoughts quickly, or [he] can spend more time delving into the nuance.”

While surveys can show the frequency of a theme or keyword, ThoughtExchange takes it further by also showing how those themes are rated. In SVUSD’s engagement Exchanges, some themes were much more frequent, but participant ratings showed that less frequent themes were just as important—nuanced data a survey would have missed.


Optimizing your district’s strategy with ThoughtExchange

Whether your district is working to improve aging infrastructure and facilities, create equity, or build community engagement, you’ll want to hear from the people who matter most.

With unique features like Survey questions to analyze groups, Differences to find common ground, and Themes to translate thoughts into action, ThoughtExchange helps education leaders uncover their district’s needs, and implement more effective strategic plans.

Find out how ThoughtExchange can help you nail your district’s strategic plan.
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Sarah Mathias
Sarah discovered her love of words when she penned her first journal in grade 4—she hasn’t stopped writing since. With a BA in Sociology and an MPC in International/Intercultural Communication, Sarah honed her corporate writing skills in the travel insurance and fashion industries before working with ThoughtExchange. She brings her collaborative spirit and commitment to antiracism, diversity, equity, and inclusion, along with her penchant for grammar jokes.

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