Themes identified for School District 68’s strategic plan

The Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District is moving forward with a strategic plan after soliciting from parents, staff and students.

What are some key areas School District 68 should focus on to support student learning and achievement?

It’s a key question in the district’s strategic planning process, and the answers provided by parents, staff and students will form the district’s direction for the next five to 15 years.

Last spring, the school district held meetings with all 40 school communities in the district and asked this question. Last week, district staff presented the answers it received during a strategic planning update meeting Oct. 9 at Ladysmith Secondary School.

“We are preparing a strategic plan because we want to be proactive and forward-thinking about the future, and we know that strategic planning improves performance,” said SD68 communications officer Donna Reimer. “It communicates to everyone what is important and focuses the entire district on improving student learning. We believe that is going to yield great results for student learning, and that, of course, is our goal — student achievement.”

Last week’s meeting was held to share with the public what the district learned from the meetings held last spring and to receive more input about the public’s priorities.

More than 1,000 people participated in the meetings last spring and provided feedback online, and the district received almost 6,000 thoughts.

“Of course, many of the thoughts were similar, but still, it was 6,000 individual thoughts, which was pretty exciting for us to see how many people participated and how much information we got,” said Reimer. “When we asked people online to select their priorities, they assigned almost 40,000 priority stars to the thoughts and ideas.”

Last spring, the district used a public engagement software called ThoughtStream to collect people’s thoughts and find out what their priorities were. Once that information was collected, district staff worked over the summer to review the priorities and identify the major themes.

The first question the district asked last spring was, “What are some examples of things that should be celebrated and sustained in our current education system?”

Many priorities came out of people’s responses, including aboriginal education, extra support for students, dedicated and caring staff, positive school climate, recognition of student success of all types, and parent engagement.

“There were some things that really stood out for me,” said Reimer. “One of the things I was really pleased to see is that we are a public education system and that there is universal access … that’s really important to us. One thing we saw people talk about over and over again was our staff and how good they are. People talked about the diversity and choice of programs, that they appreciated that and liked having that there, particularly at secondary schools. Students talked about the things they liked, more student choice; they talked about extracurricular activities, extra support for students.”

The priorities that were identified for things to celebrate and sustain will be key considerations in the development of the district’s strategic plan.

The second question the district asked was, “What are some key areas we should focus on and develop in order to support student learning and engagement?”

“The second question is really the big focus for us as we move forward drafting the plan,” explained Reimer. “The whole goal of our strategic plan is to improve student learning by improving student engagement and student achievement.”

The priorities identified fell into nine major themes — meet each student’s unique needs; strong instructional and assessment practices; technology to support student learning; student wellness; parent engagement; community partnerships; enhance facilities for learning; effective use of limited financial resources; and employee engagement.

This month, these priorities will be linked to the development of the school board’s district goals, which will form the foundation of the strategic plan. The first draft of the strategic plan will be developed in November, and the second and final drafts are expected to be presented to the board for consideration and a decision in December and January.

About 16 people were at the LSS meeting, and school board chairman Jamie Brennan appreciated that people took the time to come to the meeting.

“This is something we want to do to make a difference for students,” he said. “We want to improve our system so that our students leave School District 68 better prepared for life, and you’re helping us move in that direction, so thank you.”