by Adriana de Kanter, Vero Beach

Concerns about the School District of Indian River County’s Strategic Plan

After attending Tuesday night school board meetings all year, I appreciated the opportunity to provide feedback on the School District of Indian River County’s draft strategic plan.  I also appreciate that the school district will have a strategic plan, which is a step in the right direction for our community.  However, I do want to share my major concerns with the draft strategic plan that I submitted via the on-line feedback form on the school district’s website.

Our children are a precious resource

As a first premise, let me state that the Democrats of Indian River County believe our children are a precious resource. Our children represent our future. They are our future scientists, first responders, elected officials, carpenters, and medical personnel. Children under the age of 18 represent only 17.5 percent of our population in Indian River County, so it is important that we provide them with the best education possible. Realistically, this is a challenging effort since almost 60 percent of the students are considered economically disadvantaged and 6 schools have over 80% of their student body receiving free and reduced price lunch (economically disadvantaged).

So, knowing our county’s student population as we do, it is unfortunate that the plan does not include specific actions or approaches to be undertaken by the district under each strategy for our student population.  The strategies in the plan are very, very general.  Specific strategic actions would make the plan particular to Indian River County by indicating to the public what steps the district intends to undertake to fulfill each strategy.  Without these customized actions for our county, this plan feels like a boilerplate strategic plan that could be applied to any community.

Too few benchmarks for success

Second, the plan mainly lists data sources rather than quantifiable indicators or benchmarks for success.  This is problematic because you can’t manage to what you don’t measure.  Also, the strategies and measures do not seem sensitive to our county’s particular problems. Our very real local issues are not addressed head-on and with rigorous and measurable indicators. In the Indian River County Public Schools, there are:

1. Huge disparities in achievement on standardized tests between minority children (especially black children) and whites;

2. Inadequate communications with minority parents and the minority community;

3. Disproportionate disciplinary actions taken against minority students; and,

4. A lack of transparency in the decision making process for relieving teaching and school leadership personnel from their positions.

As I mentioned before, this feels like a boilerplate strategic plan that could be applied to any community and does not address the real concerns of Indian River County Schools. Indeed, the firm hired to do this work –Batelle for Kids–is from Ohio and spent very little time gathering information in our district.  And, while I believe Battelle for Kids is committed to excellence and equity concerns, there is no meaningful differentiation in the measures of success addressing the disparity in achievement among subgroups in our county.

One of many examples is the measure of success that reads: “Percentage of minority students participating and succeeding in accelerated courses.” It is not meaningful to state a measure of success like this without a goal to benchmark against. Thus, with this particular measure of success you would need to add: “Percentage of minority students participating and succeeding in accelerated courses will reach the proportion of each respective demographic group in the total student population.” There need to be strong, equitable, and aspirational goals included in this plan that are understandable and measurable. There needs to be a true expectation for all students to succeed.

How can we personalize the strategic plan?

The Democrats of Indian River County are purposefully attending our community meetings and adding our voices to the public discourse.  We stand committed to invest in Florida’s public schools, colleges, and universities, because education is the bridge that help our working families and will lead millions into the middle class.

While applauding the generation of a county-wide strategic plan, the school district needs to take this plan and personalize it to our local situation by including thoughtful, tangible, and transparent actions that they intend to implement. Two upcoming strategic actions for the plan’s Goal 2: Culture & Climate will be the re-drafting of the Indian River County Public Schools’ Code of Conduct and the new work of the Urban Learning and Leadership Center with the community.

I  look forward to more positive strategic actions.