Trakas now questions if strategic plan for Mehlville either strategic or a plan

Trakas votes ‘yes’ on plan at February board meeting

The Mehlville Board of Education Aug. 17, the night they discussed the district's strategic plan and voted to place Prop R on the ballot. From left, board members Jean Pretto, Vice President Larry Felton, President Vanki Palamand, Secretary Samantha Stormer, Lori Trakas and Lisa Dorsey, with Superintendent Chris Gaines, right.

The Mehlville Board of Education Aug. 17, the night they discussed the district’s strategic plan and voted to place Prop R on the ballot. From left, board members Jean Pretto, Vice President Larry Felton, President Vanki Palamand, Secretary Samantha Stormer, Lori Trakas and Lisa Dorsey, with Superintendent Chris Gaines, right.

By Gloria Lloyd

Mehlville School District officials have staked the district’s future on its strategic plan, but in advance of the Nov. 3 vote on Proposition R for Restore, a 49-cent tax-rate increase, a Board of Education member who initially voted for it now questions whether it is either strategic or a plan.

District officials say the Mehlville Strategic Plan, or MSP, is the road map to the district’s future decisions, and anyone can use it to measure the district’s progress.

One of the reasons the board hired Superintendent Chris Gaines is his experience in continuous improvement, the strategic-planning method spearheaded in the district last year by interim Superintendent Norm Ridder.

After Gaines succeeded Ridder in July, the board voted 5-1 for a policy that requires taking the strategic plan into account for decisions, with board members Lori Trakas opposed and Lisa Dorsey absent. Trakas later took aim at the “cookie-cutter strategic plan” Aug. 17, the night she was the sole vote against Prop R.

Jamey Murphy was absent for that vote.

“The challenge I have is you have to agree 100 percent with everything that’s in the strategic plan if you’re going to put that into policy,” Trakas said. “It just concerns me that it might limit what the future board could do.”

But other board members say that’s the point. In the community surveys that created the MSP, residents said they didn’t trust the board because of its history of random, disjointed decisions, and board members pledge those days are over as they now think more strategically.

“We have to listen to what the community says, and our votes need to go that way,” board Secretary Samantha Stormer told students Sept. 21. “This is no longer what I think is best or what (board President) Venki (Palamand) may think is best: This is what we’re being told by our community that they think is best for the district, and we need to vote accordingly.”

Mehlville is staking its future on the MSP and Prop R, which would fund key aspects of the MSP, including reading coaches.

Gaines showed the board progress on action plans Aug. 6. Trakas didn’t ask any questions then, but at the next meeting Aug. 17, she contended the MSP is not strategic or a plan.

“A strategic plan is supposed to have quantitative numbers that show when the results will happen — not just some good thinking plans but actual numbers,” Trakas said.

Stormer took exception to Trakas’ remark, telling Trakas that if she has any suggestions, she should bring them to the board and district officials so that the MSP can be improved, rather than just offer criticism with no specifics.

“As far as the ‘cookie-cutter’ comments about our strategic plan, we voted that 7-0,” Stormer told Trakas.

“It wasn’t 7-0,” Trakas replied.

“In February, it was a 7-0 vote,” Palamand said.

“But why did we just revote on it?” Trakas asked. “The vote for the policy doesn’t count?”

Last year, Trakas joined the board in unanimously approving both the $41,000 MSP funding and the plan itself.

At an Oakville Township Republican Club meeting Oct. 1, anti-Prop R group Secure Mehlville Oakville Future Treasurer Jane Conder said, “The strategic plan is not a plan … It has no objective measures, we have no accountability, we have no time frames … We don’t know where we’re headed, we don’t know who’s going to do it and we don’t know when it’s going to get done, but we do know how we’re going to spend $8 million.”

“Their strategic plan is to develop a plan,” Oakville GOP Committeewoman Celeste Witzel said. “What is this teaching the children of the district as far as strategic planning?”

But pro-Prop R group Mehlville Oakville United Committee Treasurer Kevin Schartner works on strategic plans for Ameren and says Mehlville has a pretty good one.

Critics may be confusing strategic plans with tactical plans, he added.

“It is a strategic plan because it lays out the direction that the school district wants to go — it says what the important things are that we need to do, and it lays out metrics to see if we actually need them or not,” he said. “Strategy is a higher level than tactical planning — how we’re going to get there, knowing that the reality of how things unfold over time changes a little bit.”

On the MSP, Schartner wrote, “It was done right, with community involvement to define the goals we want our school system to meet … So if you ever overhear someone saying we don’t have a strategic plan, feel free to correct them with some facts and definitions.”

The goals of the MSP are: Student preparation, teacher support and “effective and efficient,” with measures and indicators outlined for each and notes that action plans are coming later. Some are finished, and some hinge on Prop R.

Under the goal of student preparation, the MSP outlines the measures of state tests and other assessments, attendance and students’ “passion for learning.”

The district will measure progress in academic areas through ACT scores and the percentage of children achieving: kindergarten readiness, grade-level reading by third grade and grade-level math by fifth grade, ninth-grade readiness, college and career-readiness, taking AP classes, graduating and attending college.

Teacher support will be measured by surveys, student-teacher ratio, teacher collaboration and professional development time, site leadership, coaching and mentoring. Indicators include student behavior and feedback, classroom walk-through data, site leadership and teacher training minutes and teacher knowledge of technology. The three- to five-year action plan will be a “system of improvement including feedback, coaching, mentoring, data-driven decision making and innovation.”

Under effective and efficient, the primary goal is a “balanced use of district resources.” The measurements focus on a systems check for effectiveness and efficiency — a specialty of Gaines, a Baldridge-certified examiner of high-performing systems — along with student-teacher contact time.

The indicators include a balanced budget, cash reserves, facilities maintenance, percent of students eating school lunch, vehicle replacement and route efficiency, technology efficiency, staff retention and satisfaction, parent, community and student satisfaction, quarterly checks of the system and its progress and support for adult and student learning.