Strategic and Operational Plans
- By Glenn Meeks
- October 1st, 2016
I suspect many readers do not
know that the K-12 accreditation agencies
around the United Sates require school
districts to create and update a strategic plan
as part of maintaining their accredited status.
Yes, you know your district has a strategic
plan, but not why. Most of you will privately
admit that your district’s strategic plan has
lofty goals with little information of how the district will get there
or how it affects your daily activities.
It is interesting to note that what the accreditation agencies
call a strategic plan is not what a business would call a strategic
plan. Many people credit the books of Henry Mintzberg, of
McGill University in the early 1970s, as the father of strategic
planning. In today’s world, a strategic plan for
business is one where you outline your goals,
develop strategies to reach those goals, assign
accountability and determine and allocate the
resources required by those strategies — our
organization is at point A and we want to move
to point B, how will we get there?
Your district’s strategic plan should be called
a vision statement: What do you want your
district to achieve in the future? Or, perhaps, a
mission statement: What is the purpose of your
organization? Take a look at your strategic plan, which of the three
questions above does it answer?
In the mid 1980s, AASA (American Association of School administrators)
and ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum
Development) promoted strategic planning through wide dissemination
of planning handbooks by Shirley McCune and Bill Cook.
Cook graduated over 400 “certified strategic planners” through an
AASA approved program. Today’s K-12 strategic planning process is
essentially Bill Cook’s adaptation of Mintzberg’s concepts.
Here is the rub. Starting in the early 1990s, a number of papers
and books came out showing that there was no evidence that
strategic planning improved academic achievement or student
learning. Even Mintzberg outlines in his 1995 book what he calls,
the “grand fallacy” of strategic planning; creating good strategies
is a synthesis of many factors not development of a formal set
of procedures called strategic planning. He states that the term
“strategic planning” has become an oxymoron.
However, he goes on to state that the current version of strategic
planning has value and the statement is supported by educational
studies showing that improved public relations (community
involvement) is a real outcome from those processes. Please understand
I am not suggesting that strategic plans or vision/mission
statements are not valuable. They attempt to align a K-12 organization
to a common set of values. We can build on top of those plans.
I want to introduce a business term to the educational readers —
“operational plan.” An operational plan is the process of converting
strategic goals and objectives into tactical goals and objectives. Creating
a set of actionable strategies that can be measured. A number of
you have experience with that type of plan, but we do not categorize
them as operational planning; they are called facility master plans.
Granted, FMPs are radically different from an operational plan
focused on student learning; they do not involve
people. As soon as we bring the learner and the
teacher into the process, we add an aspect of irrationality.
Meaning, we are not consistent regarding
what criteria we use for making decisions. We
are not scientific, thankfully.
Districts need to create an operational plan
guiding the district activities across multiple
years. Using the district’s strategic plan,
focus on and build on the vision for learning
expressed in that document. The first thing is to
create a simple set of questions — maximum three to five — the
classroom teacher can ask themselves regarding the student activities
they plan to use today. It is important to align the organization,
meaning that the board of education, executive team, department
heads, building level administrators and teachers should all
talk about student learning using those questions.
Simultaneously, the operational plan needs to define where
on the continuum of learning is your district today and where
do you want to be three to five years from now. Those who have
read my columns know that I believe there are seven silos within
school districts where we must break down the barriers and create
connections. The plan must develop realistic goals and strategies
that address perceived hindrances and obstacles to change in your
district. It must also identify the parties held accountable to execute
the strategies and explicitly allocate the operating or capital
resources required by those strategies. Now we have a roadmap, an
This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.
Glenn Meeks is president of Meeks Educational Technology located in Cary, N.C. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.