District plans for the future

With the fate of thousands in their hands, several dozen people gathered at Red River Technology Center on November 19 and 20, 2015. They came from all walks of educational life — students, teachers, principals, administrators, community members. They had but one goal: help to shape the future of Duncan Public Schools.

This was Phase 2 of the district’s strategic planning process. This ongoing process is intended to provide Duncan Public Schools, or DPS, with a five-year plan to improve the quality of education that the district provides its students.

The level of planning taking place now isn’t something that happens every year, according to Melonie Hau, Superintendent of DPS.

“On the level like this, where it’s intense, it probably wouldn’t happen but every 3-5 years or so,” she said. “This particular plan is supposed to be for a 5-year plan.”

The part of the planning that took place in November was Phase 2 of the process, which was intended to provide an analysis of the district as it is now. Participants were provided with binders full of data pertaining to the district, and after two days, they formulated statements detailing what areas DPS needs to improve in the most, such as student achievement and college readiness and explaining methods of measuring performance and achievement in those areas, such as monitoring test scores.

Temo Ibarra, Director of Operations at Sanford Children’s Clinic in Duncan and a father of two current students who took part in the November planning, believes that the planning group did valuable work in analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of DPS.

“We were able to see where we need to be working at as a district and also the areas where we need to be applauded for doing so,” he said.

Hau said that Phase 2 was a critical part of the overall strategic planning process.

“It think it is extremely important that this group met for the two days to work on the plan,” she said. “When you work through the process you end up with a really great product, which is what this group did, and what it will allow us to do as a district is set our own accountability system so that we’re not totally reliant on the state to tell us how we’re doing.”

Phase 1 entailed collecting data on what the community views as the district’s core challenges and values. Phase 3 will focus on the solutions to the problems that the district faces, while Phase 4 will pertain to the implementation of those solutions.

Sharon Wilbur, Associate Director at K20 Center at the University of Oklahoma, the organization assisting DPS in its strategic planning, explained how Phase 3 will build upon November’s work.

“[Phase 3] is called the Action Team. They’ll start deciding, ‘Okay, so how do we make this happen? What programs, what surveys, what classes, what processes do we need to put in place to address the goals and the data that [Phase 2] has gathered?’” she said. “Each phase builds upon the one before it.”

The K20 center is an organization that’s been dedicated to the science of school district improvement for over 20 years now, according to Wilbur.

“The K20 Center is a research organization that partners with schools to do things like this, to provide professional development, to provide guidance,” she said. “While we do it, we collect research on what’s working and what’s not working.”

A goal for the planning is to include people with varying interests in the educational system, Wilbur said.

“I think, number one, they’re looking for some community input and partnerships to really build that public support that’s so important to all public schools — you know they’re called public schools — and that it is a joint endeavor,” she said. “[Mrs. Hau] wanted to be sure that all of the stakeholders were involved in this process, so that as we move forward with these goals for the next five years, everybody knows how it was created. It’s very transparent, they know what data was used, they know what processes were used, but then because they were a part of the decisions, the likelihood of them supporting those initiatives as they move forward is much higher.”

Hau firmly believes that the planning should be a transparent and inclusive affair.

“That’s the whole point,” she said. “I believe that anything we do should be an authentic process. It’s incredibly important to be authentic and transparent as an administration and as a school district.”

While the plan to improve Duncan’s educational system is still in the works, Hau thinks that people across the district could start seeing improvement relatively soon.

“By next fall for sure, we should be able to say, ‘This is a direct result of the planning that happened for this year,’” she said.

Wilbur further elaborated on the effects of the plan.

“It is a five-year plan, so there will be pieces for next school year that will be put in place. There will be some pieces that won’t be put in place until the second year. So each year of the five-year plan, there will be pieces that will be moving these goals forward,” she said. “So it’s not going to happen overnight, it is a five-year plan, but in five years, we should see that the data has changed.”

Whatever phases are involved, however many years it will take, one thing that no one denies is that community involvement is vital to any action of the school district.

This rings especially true to Ibarra.

“We have to be vocal, not only as parents, but also as educators and as students, that we want to change,” he said.