School district leaders’ use of strategic planning in a changing educational landscape
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The purpose of this study was to determine how superintendents conduct strategic planning in a changing educational environment. The literature suggests that superintendents must adjust to a new playing field that requires using already limited resources not only to educate students, but also position their schools as desirable in the market of public opinion. While the literature identified strategic planning as a valuable practice in educational leadership, very little research was available that provided a pragmatic view of how superintendents engage in the process. Superintendents involved in this basic qualitative study were able to identify the key components used for strategic planning, how other factors influenced the process, and how they linked the work of the strategic plan to action. The study participants all engaged in an entry plan process prior to beginning strategic planning. The information gathered from the entry plan helped the superintendents determine their next actions and, in several circumstances, formed the basis for the strategic plan. Learning about the culture and context of the district provided the superintendents with the information they needed to frame the strategic planning process in a way that would be well received, identify and involve a representative group of stakeholders, and design and implement a process that met the needs of the district. Superintendent experience, the needs of the district, and state and federal requirements also emerged as factors influencing strategic planning. Seven common components were represented in the approaches that the superintendents took in the strategic planning process: (a) determine board and community readiness, (b) utilize an external facilitation agent, (c) identify and involve stakeholders, (d) develop a shared vision, (e) determine priorities and goals, (f) develop strategies, and (g) solicit feedback and communicate through the process. Alignment of the strategies to the vision, goals, and priorities emerged as a key finding and served as parameters that empowered innovation and creativity. Linking the work of the strategic plan to action and monitoring progress happened through district and campus plans, superintendent evaluations, board and executive leadership retreats, goal-tracking documents, and campus visits, among other things.
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