Back to School: The Entire Community is Invited
The whole community is welcomed back to school
Inclusive planning and great partnerships start now
How often does a teacher remind their students to listen in order to learn??The Fort Smith Public School District as a whole is embracing that fundamental principle, by inviting parents, students, educators, Partners in Education and citizens to discuss our schools together. It begins publicly Aug. 3 with a Community Summit for Strategic Planning.
Listening and having mutual dialogue is the first step of fresh strategic planning started when Dr. Doug Brubaker was hired as superintendent last year.
The fall semester starts his first full school year as the district’s top administrator but in February, on his first day, Brubaker said he would take a personal listening tour with the school board, administration, educators and in the community at-large.
Now, the process is going to be opened widely to parents and all the city’s residents, including those who are already involved through the Partners in Education program.
After listening comes a plan, then action.
“We’re really going to work to come up with big, broad goals but also to drill down to a series of actions we’re going to take,” Brubaker said.
Whether action is taken on improvements big or small, “I like to quantify what we are getting out of it,” Brubaker said. “I like for what we accomplish to be shown. It is transparent to say this is where we started and this is where we ended up.”
Brubaker likes quantifying results, even when efforts have to be given a bad mark.
“A transparent process also shows when we didn’t get a goal accomplished, so we can discuss a different avenue to succeed,” he said.
A strategic planning consulting firm, Cambridge Strategic Services, is working to assist the school district in this endeavor, using data to impartially help identify the school district’s internal threats and opportunities, point out different external factors and understand its current strengths and weaknesses.
The action plan all the stakeholders will help shape by their input likely will include something Brubaker has already heard from many sources, from civic groups, educators and parents:
“I keep hearing about college and career readiness. People want our district to be making sure that our kids, regardless of where they’re going to go, begin that path as a graduate of our schools – with a leg up.” That leg up can mean graduating with significant college credits earned while in high school and it can mean a head start in certification in other career tracks. He gave the example of certification for work in the computer security field. Such certification also can be obtained while in high school.
Some of these programs and opportunities already are available to Fort Smith students in effective programs, he acknowledged.
“But we want to empower all our kids to reach their goals, whatever they are, at graduation. The second thing is we don’t just want a program for some of our kids. We want for our programs to have enough capacity to meet the needs of all the kids,” he explained.
“So, do we have enough opportunities for kids to get college credit? Can they earn associate degrees in a few fields before they get out of high school? What can we do to ensure that all the kids have that opportunity in a lot of different areas?” he continued. “We don’t necessarily want it to be an example or pilot program, we want it to be part of how we do business. We want to say we have it everywhere for everyone.”
Fort Smith Public Schools benefit from great strengths right now, he added. During his personal listening tour, even before beginning official strategic planning, others praised many current “positives.”
In visiting civic clubs such as the Kiwanis, Brubaker saw an example of Partners in Education in that organization’s long-term volunteer work to create outdoor classrooms, playground improvements and to mentor school newspapers at several elementary schools.
At Rotary Club meetings and other gatherings where he was invited to speak or attend, he heard comments on the strength of the district’s fine arts programs and concerns that the district should continue to strive for the best safety and security. “It really illustrates how the community is embedded into the fabric of the school system,” Brubaker said of the feedback.
All of these people are invited into the official strategic planning process, he said. Action teams will be developed to put people to work on particular goals.“We want people to think divergently instead of hearing the superintendent give examples of goals,” Brubaker said. The strategic planning process will ask all contributors to develop those goals.
“I sense that commitment here – that when folks in this district do it, they want to do it right,” Brubaker said. He said has seen strategic planning succeed in school districts where he has worked. His last posting was at a 50,000-student district in Garland, Texas. Fort Smith Public Schools serves about 15,000 students.
Brubaker is eager for the listening, goal-setting and action to start. He will be a parent of a kindergarten student, his daughter, when school begins. “My family and I believe we’ve landed in a great place and we’re excited to be here,” he said.
Aug. 3 is a big day for Fort Smith Public Schools
Day: Partners in Education Workshop will meet
Night: Community Summit will hear your ideas
Partners in Education Workshop Day
The annual workshop day of Fort Smith Public Schools’ Partners in Education will begin at 8 a.m. Aug. 3.
It’s a one-day exchange of ideas between the Partners of different schools with informative break-out sessions.
Two sessions, at 10 and 10:30 a.m., will be devoted to giving an overview of the new Strategic Planning initiative. Partners also will be briefed on the City of Fort Smith’s upcoming bicentennial and encouraged to participate. Three projects are already planned to engage students in the 200-year anniversary of the city’s founding. They are a lip dub video, a fort-building project and a community garden-related project. Attend to hear more!
The Partners Workshop is held at Chaffin Junior High, 3025 Massard Road, Fort Smith. Contact the School District at 479-785-2501 or fortsmithschools.org.
Let's Talk! Community Summit for Strategic Planning
At 5:30 p.m. Aug. 3, everyone in the community who cares about public schools is invited to speak and perhaps volunteer in the Fort Smith Public School District’s strategic planning initiative.
This process will be guided by a facilitator. The first step is listening and contributing about wishes, problems or proposals of new ideas to innovate and uplift public schools. As the process continues, leaders and action teams – all volunteers – will be identified and can begin to focus on specific goals.
This process will continue throughout the fall semester and may include training for those who become part of the team.
Off-site work will continue through November. A second, large team meeting is scheduled for early December.
After semester break, the developing strategic planning will be communicated to the school board. The board will review and contribute to the plan and instruct the superintendent to begin its implementation in 2018-19 school year.
This long-term outline will be explained in full at the Aug. 3 Community Summit. Everyone is invited to learn about the process, contribute and be heard or perhaps to volunteer to work as a member of an action team. It starts with good communication. Everyone is welcome to be a part of this process.
This article appears in the August 2017 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.