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Mequon-Thiensville board continues to mold its future plans

Members hone details of overarching goals for district

July 31, 2012

Mequon - With an eye toward the future, Mequon-Thiensville school officials on Monday continued to discuss long-term goals that will shape decision-making in a number of areas, including finances, curriculum and facilities.

Strategic planning has been a buzz phrase in the district ever since the School Board in October issued an $84,300 contract to ECRA Group, a research and analytics firm based in Rosemont, Ill.

ECRA officials have been meeting periodically with Mequon-Thiensville board members and administrators to hash over a number of measurable goals that will be used as drivers to future policy decisions.

The firm's efforts have included issuing surveys and holding a series of focus groups for district residents. Since the initiative got under way, efforts have focused on gathering feedback from a variety of groups, including staff, students, parents and residents without children in schools.

"All of the data was synthesized," said Gina Siemieniec, a senior associate with ECRA. "The people have spoken."

ECRA's field research was used as a prelude to the more recent conversations with the board and administrators.

At Monday's meeting, board members continued to wrangle over the specificity and measurability of any goals placed within the overall strategic planning document that is being formulated.

With assistance from ECRA, goals have been placed within one of five so-called buckets: student achievement, district intelligence and infrastructure, fiscal, enhancement of overall culture and climate, and partnerships with the community.

To date, Mequon-Thiensville board members have been methodical and thorough in their deliberations about strategic planning. With a timeline in mind, ECRA officials have been encouraging the board to keep the process moving.

"We really need to move forward and get this on the books," Siemieniec said. "This is what's going to drive your decisions."

Board needs time to reflect

Board President Suzette Urbashich said she believes it is important to thoughtfully reflect on the goals put in place before any final decisions are made.

"I'm sorry, but I'll need to take this away and sit on it for a bit," Urbashich said. "I'm uncomfortable saying what's written tonight will stand the test of time."

Board members continued to express concern about the draft version of the goals that were in place before Monday's meeting. Reservations included the overall framework of the goals, as well as the specificity of each one.

"I hate to back pedal, but the goals should be overarching," board member Gary Laev said.

Board member Stephanie Clark stated she wants the bar set high, yet have wording crafted in such a way that goals will ultimately be attainable.

"We always want to challenge people, but that's a bland statement," she said.

The board also continued to wrangle over the overall process of firming up the strategic goals. While several board members wanted administrators to fill in the gaps, other elected officials said they felt it was their job to have a firm set of guidelines in place.

From a process standpoint, Superintendent Demond Means said he agreed the follow-up steps should be collaborative.

"I would want the administrative team to have an opportunity to weigh in," Means said. "Ultimately, we have to carry it out."

Goals must be measurable

Among the goals hashed over during Monday's work session was a goal ensuring students have a quality education that emphasizes personal achievement, personal growth and postsecondary success - be it at a four-year university or another route.

"If we're going to make a strong statement, we're going to have to find a way to measure it," board member Robert Perry said.

Further discussion on the strategic planning process is anticipated in the near future.

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