In early February, residents in Riverside Elementary School District 96 will receive a survey in the mail as part of a new long-range strategic planning process. The District 96 board gave the planning process its blessing in December when it hired a consultant to help it guide the process when the district experiences a change in the superintendent’s office as the 2004-05 school year wraps up.

“It really keeps the district moving forward without any interruption,” said District 96 Superintendent Dr, David Bonnette, who will retire at the end of the school year.

In a letter that will accompany the survey, School Board President Cheryl Berdelle lays out the three-phase planning process, which will take at least two years to complete. The survey, which will be mailed to all of the approximately 7,000 households in the district, is part of the first phase.

In addition to the survey, the first phase will include the formation of a strategic planning steering committee, gathering data, seeking input from various groups and identifying priority issues.

“Through this survey … the board is seeking to obtain two results,” Berdelle wrote in a draft version of the letter, which was distributed to board members at their Jan. 18 meeting. “First, feedback from the community on current programs and practices along with ideas for future directions and, second, expressions of interest from our constituents to serve on a long-range plan committee.”

The surveys will be sent out at the beginning of next month with the hope of getting completed surveys back by mid-February. Responses will be tabulated by District 96 officials, who will also follow up with people who indicate an interest in being part of the 35-person steering committee.

“Over the next few weeks, we’ll tabulate the results and appoint the committee so that before spring break we can have the committee come together for a one-day retreat,” Bonnette said.

At that retreat the steering committee, the new superintendent and consultant Dr. Tyra Manning will look at data gathered from the survey, the annual school report card and school improvement plans and identify a half dozen or so initiatives that the district should focus on in the next four to five years.

By fall 2005, the second phase of the planning process will begin. Phase two will involve the formation of smaller “action plan teams” co-chaired by district staff and community members. The action plan teams will focus individually on issues identified by the steering committee, researching the topics in depth. In the third phase the action plan teams will come back to the board with outcomes to achieve and strategies to accomplish those goals.

The last time District 96 embarked on a full-scale strategic planning process was in 1993, just a year after Bonnette was hired. A second, smaller process was undertaken in 2001, which resulted in new district school boundaries and a policy on class sizes.

“When I started, it took two to three years before we saw the product from our strategic planning efforts completed,” Bonnette said. “This way, you know what your primary initiatives are going to be. You form your planning teams in the fall and have the reports in the spring and continue the process.”

New D96 superintendent to be named tomorrow

After several months of anticipation, the residents of Riverside School District 96 will soon know who will be at the helm. Superintendent Dr. David Bonnette confirmed that the board planned to announce the hiring of his replacement at a special board meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m. tomorrow evening in the district office, 63 Woodside Road in Riverside.

Bonnette, announced at the end of the 2003-04 school year that this would be his last year in the district. In September, the board hired the search firm of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates to find suitable candidates for the position. The same firm had been used when District 96 hired Bonnette back in 1992.

"It has been a very good process, and very time consuming," said school board President Cheryl Berdelle said. "But it's gone very well and we're very pleased with our consultant team. We've seen some very qualified candidates."

Since September, the board has conducted two rounds of interviews with candidates. The final, step in the interview process, a site visit, took place yesterday.