The Olentangy Board of Education underwent a strategic planning discussion as part of a scheduled work session on Monday. Dr. Dawn Wiese, who specializes in organizational development and training, facilitated the meeting, which was centered around the district’s strategic plan initiatives and how the board feels the district is meeting those initiatives.
Wiese challenged board members to keep their focus on the larger picture in the district while, in turn, allowing the district’s leadership team to carry out the strategic plan.
“When we think about boards, boards are in the governance role, and your staff team is in that operational role,” Wiese stated in the opening discussion. “What I have noticed, both as a board member and as somebody working with boards, is I think it is a very natural thing for boards to move into operations … The challenge of being a board member is trying to elevate that thinking and really focus on how the mechanics run at the higher level so that it empowers that staff team to then actualize that larger vision.”
Wiese asked that the board members think about governance versus operations, emphasizing that the two truly are opposing viewpoints. “If the board is spending too much time in operations, it’s not doing the governance part of its job,” she said.
The four pillars of the district’s strategic plan are students and stakeholders, resource stewardship, internal processes, and learning and organizational development. Members of the board began by addressing what they believe have been successes in regard to the students and stakeholders and where they feel improvements can be made.
Among the sub initiatives of students and stakeholders is the promotion of a culture of inclusive excellence. Board member Brandon Lester began the discussion by saying the district’s focus on inclusivity has been “obvious” and “explained in everything that we do.” However, he added that creating a culture of inclusive excellence isn’t a box that can ever be marked as being completed, saying it has to continue being a focus with a proactive mindset moving forward.
Lester went on to say he believes the idea of inclusive excellence can be expanded to creating a culture of mental health, particularly after all of the challenges associated with the pandemic.
“The next three to five, 10 years, we’re going to be seeing the future of the kids who came into our schools during the pandemic,” Lester said. “We’ve started to see how it’s affecting them, and we’re going to continue to see that play out from a learning development, social development, emotional development, and mental health development perspective. If we aren’t focused on not just providing those supports, which we do and do very well, but also evaluating how they’re working and how they’re playing out over time, we’re going to be doing a disservice to our students.”
Board member Kevin Daberkow said he believes the “overarching strength” of the district’s focus on students and stakeholders is that the district is “very critical when we miss the mark, and we press really hard to keep getting better.”
Educating the community on what, exactly, the district means when referring to the creation of a culture of inclusive excellence and everything that falls under its umbrella will also be crucial, board member LaKesha Wyse said during the discussion.
Board Chairman Kevin O’Brien, echoing Wyse’s comments, said the district needs to be able to show the community that inclusive excellence is more than just the hot button topics such as race and gender identity. “Until we define it, they’re going to define it for us,” he said.
Superintendent Mark Raiff underlined the importance of the discussions, particularly regarding the emphasis on inclusive excellence, the board members were having and the impact it will have on the administrators in being able to take those points and put them into action throughout the district.
Speaking on resource stewardship, O’Brien said that while the district has a goal of “maximizing investments and revenues,” the goal is probably better defined as “optimizing” rather than maximizing.
“There are so many constraints to what (Treasurer) Emily (Hatfield) can and can’t do in terms of investments, and you want to do it on a risk-adjusted basis. You don’t want to take a bunch of speculative bets to maximize when, really, what we’re trying to say is we’re going to balance risk and reward. We’re going to invest within the parameters the state of Ohio has set for us in terms of what’s acceptable and not acceptable. But we’re going to actively pursue that portfolio and actively ensure that both investments and revenue are operating the way that we need them to.”
O’Brien went on to note that, in terms of goals of fiscal responsibility and transparency, “we get award after award” to show how the district is meeting that goal.
O’Brien began the discussion on learning and organizational development by saying he believes there is “work to be done” regarding the “consistent delivery of the curriculum” so that, within reason, students get a similar education regardless of which school they’re attending.
“Get the rogue curriculums out and make sure that the staff is adhering to the curriculum policy more consistently than I think we’ve seen over the last two years,” he said. “Teachers need reasonable autonomy to teach the curriculum how they think is best, provided that it’s still consistent with our policy.”
In the same ways that Lester suggested a focus on mental health will be imperative for students in the years to come, he later said that the same will be true for teachers and staff throughout the district.
“The challenges of the past couple of years and the challenges of the next couple of years, especially as we are growing and are seeing the burdens that growth puts on people over time … That’s stress and that’s pressure,” Lester said. “How are we building a culture where it’s clear —and I think we’re already doing this in a lot of ways — that we’re showing people that their health and wellness, their careers, and their lives are important to us? That’s how we retain people.”
To access the full video recording of the discussion, click on the board of education tab at www.olentangy.k12.oh.us.