Mehlville strategizes for its next five years

By Erin Achenbach
Staff Reporter
eachenbach@callnewspapers.com

Preparation is underway as the Mehlville School District continues to implement the next five-year phase of the district’s strategic plan, and so far early themes of safety and personalization have dominated community feedback about the strategic plan.

At a Board of Education work session Jan. 21, Superintendent Chris Gaines said that the district has been gathering feedback from the community since the start of the 2019-2020 school year and is now using the feedback gathered to shape the next phase of the strategic plan.

“So back in the summer, we kind of laid out this plan around ‘we’re in year four of the current strategic plan’ and if we want to think in five-year cycles… then we need to start planning now for that next piece,” said Gaines. “Not maybe so much planning but engaging the community about what the community has to say and what does the community want for its schools and how can we deliver upon it.”

The engagement process during the school year, Mehlville Listens, consists of four listening sessions, each centered around a particular aspect of schooling and the district. The next is set for March 10. The district will also hold online survey ThoughtExchanges to gather further input.

With the first few surveys in the past, Gaines said early themes are “without equivocation” safety and personalization.

“Those are the two things that have risen to the top,” he said. “Safety is definitely the top one.”

Gaines broke down the timeline into seven steps, with engagement from August to December 2019, identifying early themes in December, another engagement period from January to April, identifying more themes in April/May, gathering ideas for action from May to September and further engagement from August to December, with goals and action steps planned for early 2021.

“So we’ll get down to… the concepts we want to move forward with and then we begin to expand and go, ‘OK, what do these look like in terms of goals and action steps and strategies?’” Gaines outlined.

The groundwork for the strategic plan was first set in fall 2014, before the board formally adopted it in 2015, just before Gaines started in the district.

The current strategic plan is built around three elements: student preparation, teacher support and being effective and efficient.

“We’ve kind of said from the beginning, we’d like to keep those there. We think those are good. We think those are well-rounded,” Gaines said of the current three themes. “How can you keep those three and then just move to the next iteration of what those look like? So in the student preparation side, what we’ve been talking about is just the human element part of safety and how we provide supports to students and what that could look like from the teacher side.”

As for another aspect of student preparation, personalization, Gaines said, “How are you making sure that as a district we’re dealing with 10,000 different kids who are all different, they’re not the same? How do we provide them with different experiences? How do we provide those kids the opportunity to have a voice? How do we leverage a kid’s strengths to move them forward?”

Gaines told the board that the administration will meet with teachers to discuss safety and personalization, and gather teacher feedback through ThoughtExchanges.

“We’ll be able to see… is there a building that may be ready to move forward with a particular thing, maybe a little bit faster than another building? Because where we are today, really around personalization with kids, personalization with teachers, is it’s available to few.”

Take the ThoughtExchange online survey at http://bit.ly/TE3msdr9.