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Working the Plan and Getting Results

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Debbie Wesslund is one of seven members of the Jefferson County Board of Education in Louisville - a district of more than 100,000 students. She writes about the results, released last month, of the district's progress in Kentucky's Unbridled Learning accountability system.

It is a beautiful thing when a well-laid plan works.

That's what the Jefferson County Board of Education had in mind when it worked with its new superintendent, Dr. Donna Hargens in the fall of 2011 to create its strategic plan with the vision that, "All JCPS Students Graduate Prepared to Reach Their Full Potential and Contribute to Our Society Throughout Life."

I remember what resonated with us when the Board interviewed Dr. Hargens for the position of superintendent just a few months before we developed our plan together. She said we were not where we needed to be as a district with regard to achievement. She did not temper her statement by saying we have lots of barriers to achievement, she simply said we needed to do better.

No excuses, just said it plain. We hired her and got to work.

Now we have seen gains overall, including the number of students who are graduating and indicating that they are prepared.

We have been celebrating this success, which is doubled because Kentucky is the first state to implement the new Common Core State Standards, which have brought higher goals for learning into our schools. We have now been tested twice since those standards began to be put into place.

In my seven years on the school board, I can attest to the uniform desire of the school board members for all students to learn at high levels and reach their potentials.

But, I feel like this recent laser-like focus on implementing this plan is helping. Part of that is because the community understands our plan and is supporting it in a variety of ways.

It is fairly simple to take in. The plan includes the vision; followed by a statement of our mission being good instruction; and four key goals that cover learning, graduation, stakeholder involvement and safe, resourced schools.

Furthermore, our professional staff can be more effective when we are focused in our support for them. The progress we have seen is due to their increased efforts. I will forever be in awe of the quiet commitment of these professionals and their care for every student that walks into the school building.

Something that helps staff, I think, is that, because of the plan, we are more careful about adding programs and initiatives that they have to implement. If they don't fit within our plan, they get special scrutiny first.

The plan also emphasizes the priority of effective instruction, and the Board has endorsed that through directing more resources into schools and into professional development.

Our Chief Academic Officer Dr. Dewey Hensley repeats a message that to see progress we must see "More effective instruction, more of the time, in every classroom." He adds that focused teachers working together can raise student achievement. His department is working the plan.

The strategic plan has a place where we will track progress, and this is shared with the community. These data points go deeper into all the factors that go into a successful operation: number of days of extended learning time offered, highly qualified staff retention, professional development and safety, for example.

Education is simple and complex. We need to crystallize the one big rallying goal, and then provide the resources for the multi-faceted organization to meet that goal.

Are we where we need to be? No, we are not. But as we analyze our progress and we can further focus our efforts to see more improvement.

But, most of all, success has come from sticking to the overall plan.

Our plan is based on a firm foundation. It includes Core Values that guide our work. Here's the value that crystallizes it for me: "Our students are cared for and treated as if they are our own."

It points back to the beginning. Here's what I want for my child, that She will Graduate Prepared to Reach Her Full Potential and Contribute to Our Society Throughout Her Life. It's what we all want, and what public education, embraced by a community, can provide to everyone, no matter what.

For more on our plan and our progress, visit us here.

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