ERIC Identifier: ED312774
Publication Date: 1989-00-00
Author: Peterson, David
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
Strategic Planning. ERIC Digest Series Number EA 41.
Most school board members and district administrators instinctively like the
idea of strategic planning. Many of them, however, confess to being confused
over exactly what it is and what it requires. Strategic planning, writes William
Cook, Jr. (1988), is "aimed at total concentration of the organization's
resources on mutually predetermined measurable outcomes." An effective plan, by
this definition, encompasses an organization's entire resources and purpose. It
must be constructed deliberately and thoughtfully.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF STRATEGIC PLANNING?
of planning are patently obvious. An organization simply cannot know what it is
doing and what it intends to do unless it periodically establishes and monitors
its goals. Strategic planning enables people to influence the future. The very
act of planning implies that schools are more than passive pawns in the hands of
Such forces will soon overwhelm districts that refuse to plan for them. Harry
Cooper (1985) identifies several trends that already strongly affect schools: an
aging population, a growing proportion of minority students, and growing numbers
of special interest groups competing for scarce public resources.
In 1983, the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) in its
publication Planning for Tomorrow's Schools, identified several other key
developments that continue to demand the attention of many school districts.
School officials must plan for shortages of teachers, particularly in math,
science, and bilingual education, and they must prepare to accommodate growing
numbers of Hispanic students, many of whom will not speak English. More students
of all types will continue to come from single-parent homes.
These profound demographic changes will continue to reshape the nation and
its schools in the coming decades. They make strategic planning particularly
HOW DOES A DISTRICT DEVELOP A STRATEGIC PLAN?
plan begins with a mission statement. This document briefly summarizes the
district's purpose and operations, what it wants to accomplish, and what it
does. All the organization's goals should support this statement.
Cooper recommends that those participating in the planning process then
identify major trends affecting the school district. What are their influence?
Which most demand attention, and which can be most effectively responded to?
Answering such questions enables planners to determine which trends should play
the largest role in molding their plan.
Most authors recommend a less structured approach to the initial planning
process. Cook asserts that "the best plans are based more on the collective
intuition of the planning team than on so-called hard data." He urges planning
teams to meet for at least thirty hours over three days for a "time-on-task
concentration of intelligence, energy, and emotion."
Thomas Hart (1988) recommends using several small groups to begin the
planning process. Within these groups participants discuss, combine, and rank
their goals for the district. Representatives from each group report to the
larger body so that everyone shares a sense of cohesion and consensus.
Once the planning group enjoys a degree of consensus, it can release its
goals to subcommittees that formulate objectives for each goal. They should
specify when the task is to be completed and who is responsible for completing
Jerry Herman (1988) provides examples of how goals and objectives work. One
such goal is to develop committees "to promote ownership and collaborative
decision making in the district." One of several objectives for accomplishing
that goal entails establishing "a policy advisory committee composed of
representatives from all stakeholder groups." The person assigned to that
objective and the date by which it should be completed can also be included in
Neither goals nor objectives should be solidified too quickly. The
subcommittees in charge of formulating objectives may discover that some goals
simply cannot be implemented. Furthermore, a careful cost-benefit analysis and
forums for public response must occur before a district commits itself to a
WHAT AREAS SHOULD BE INCLUDED IN A STRATEGIC
Strategic plans are typically comprehensive. Hence they should include
everything essential to a district's mission.
This is not to say that these documents must be exceedingly long and complex.
Hart reports that Oregon's Centennial School District created an effective plan
with but three broad goals: curriculum, instruction, and community. Joseph
D'Amico (1988) demonstrates that strategic plans can be quite specific. He cites
a Northeast school that, as part of its planning process, discerned that its
major problems boiled down to student apathy and misbehavior. It chose to focus
on identifying these problems' causes and formulating and implementing
AASA recommends anticipating future trends. Wise planners will pay particular
attention to demographic changes, shrinking financial support, strengthening
their curriculums, and attracting, developing, and retaining effective teachers.
They must also plan to more fully utilize computers and other new instructional
technologies and to prepare students for a labor market that will favor white
collar jobs over blue collar ones and service jobs over agricultural employment.
WHO SHOULD BE INCLUDED IN CREATING A STRATEGIC
Authorities agree that everyone concerned with public education should
participate in the planning process.
Janice Johnson (1989) describes a Phoenix school district's approach. Its
twenty-five-person planning team included two board members, the superintendent
and his six-person cabinet, nine parents (including four business people), two
teachers, two principals, one support staff, and the presidents of the teacher
association and citizen advisory group. Principals recruited community members
for the fifteen committees that formulated objectives for the goals set by the
planning team. Such an eclectic mixture, Johnson concludes, "taps new reservoirs
of support and gets current supporters more involved."
A variety of formats encourages a variety of groups to take part. Board
members might participate in the planning during a retreat, teachers during an
inservice day, and students through a congress (Hart). The general public can
articulate its concerns through public meetings and surveys. Some districts
insist that community members constitute the majority of their planning
committees to keep educators from dominating the planning process. Yet, as the
AASA points out: "Educators have responsibility to lead the community toward
desirable educational goals, not just to cater completely to community desires."
Cook asserts that the planning team should consist of one-third to one-half
administrators, with its remaining members drawn from a broad section of the
school community. Occupation should not, he stresses, be the only criterion for
being selected to this important committee. Members should be articulate people
of good will who will pursue consensus over special interests.
HOW SHOULD A STRATEGIC PLAN BE IMPLEMENTED?
plan should be fully discussed and publicized before it is implemented. It is,
as Hart points out, an opportunity to share the district's educational vision
with the entire community.
The plan must also find its way into the district's budget and its job
descriptions. Even the most carefully formulated document will be academic if
sufficient money and time are not dedicated to meeting its objectives.
The people responsible for carrying out the plan's various objectives should
report their progress on at least a quarterly basis. Deadlines and objectives
can be modified or even eliminated, but not without thorough discussion by the
Strategic plans should be for at least five years. They should be reviewed
annually, with a particularly thorough review at the end of the first year.
Administrators should resist the urge to coast through annual reviews. These are
the times to check the plan against what the district is actually doing and to
make adjustments in either the plan or in how the plan is or is not being
A strategic plan, after all, is not simply a document. It is a district's
road map to the future. Its lines must always be true and clear.
American Association of School Administrators.
PLANNING FOR TOMORROW'S SCHOOLS: PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS. AASA Critical Issues
Report. Arlington, Virginia: AASA; and Sacramento, California: Education News
Service, 1983. 80 pages. ED 236 773.
Basham, Vicki, and Fred C. Lunenburg. "Strategic Planning, Student
Achievement and School District Financial and Demographic Factors." Paper
presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research
Association, San Francisco, California, March 1989. 22 pages. ED number not yet
Cook, William J., Jr. BILL COOK'S STRATEGIC PLANNING FOR AMERICA'S SCHOOLS.
Arlington, Virginia: American Association of School Administrators, 1988. 189
pages. ED 303 870.
Cooper, Harry A. STRATEGIC PLANNING IN EDUCATION: A GUIDE FOR POLICYMAKERS.
Alexandria, Virginia: National Association of State Boards of Education, 1985.
17 pages. ED 297 439.
D'Amico, Joseph J. "Strategic Planning for Educational Reform and
Improvement." PLANNING AND CHANGING 19,4 (Winter 1988): 237- 51. EJ 388 765.
Hart, Thomas E. LONG-RANGE PLANNING: SCHOOL DISTRICTS PREPARE FOR THE FUTURE.
Eugene, Oregon: Oregon School Study Council, January 1988. OSSC Bulletin Series.
37 pages. ED 292 207.
Herman, Jerry J. "Map the Trip to Your District's Future." THE SCHOOL
ADMINISTRATOR 45, 9 (October 1988): 16,18,23. EJ 378 733.
Johnson, Janice K. "Steer a Straight Course with Strategic Planning." THE
AMERICAN SCHOOL BOARD JOURNAL 176, 4 (April 1989): 44. EJ 387 085.