Why Your School District Needs Both

Dark office with desk and papers

Does it seem like your school district is overrun with more and more required plans for implementing and/or improving programs? Safety plans, technology plans, and plans to satisfy the program requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) are just a few of the policies districts and charters are required to create. Often, there is disconnect and confusion about how to implement all the plans, and ensure they all work together.

What's the difference between a strategic plan and an improvement plan?

People reviewing post-it notes on board.

One area of frequent confusion is the difference between a strategic plan and an operational improvement plan. I am often asked which one a district needs. I believe the answer is both - and that by having both, a district or charter can create the complete framework for continuous improvement, and put an end to planning overload.

A strategic plan is a long-range plan founded on the vision, mission, and values of the district or charter. It is more visionary than the improvement plan, and focuses on long-term goals. The strategic plan provides the direction for the improvement plan.

An improvement plan is a short-range plan that defines the steps needed to achieve the strategic plan's long-term goals. It is more operational than visionary, and includes short-term goals, with detailed actions for each goal. The improvement plan's actions are evaluated more frequently than the strategic plan, and it is formatively reviewed and revised quarterly throughout the year.

How do strategic plans and improvement plans work together?

Chalkboard with plans

The long-range strategic plan helps the district set visionary expectations, and the annual improvement plan focuses on operations, making it possible to achieve those expectations. At the end of the year, both the strategic and improvement plans are evaluated for success. The strategic plan's evaluation is formative, while the improvement plan's evaluation is summative.

Fewer plans. More successes.

Fewer Plans. More successes.

The improvement plan can wrangle all other required plans together into one master plan that includes all needs, requirements and initiatives. This builds synergy between programs and prevents duplication. For example, it is helpful for the technology plan to be congruent with plans for the use of Title IV funding. Contributors to the migrant plan benefit from knowing what is planned for parent engagement under Title I. When programs break down silo walls and merge plans together for success, students win - and districts and campuses do, too.

Start the conversation - and keep it going.

Teachers want to help, but a one-shot meeting just doesn't work. A school cannot develop a strong CNA by holding one data analysis meeting. The same thing goes for parents, who are probably even less familiar with the school's data. All stakeholders need time to examine, understand and think about the data before being asked to respond. Have several conversations—one to present the data, one to talk about ideas, and another to make decisions. If you don’t have the bandwidth to schedule standalone meetings, block out time to talk about CNA in existing meetings.

Drowning in plans?

Get your district organized through an integrated strategic planning and annual improvement planning process. Want to know more? Click here to contact our professional development team.