With the school board on the verge of hiring a new superintendent to lead the district, the Riverside District 96 school board voted 5 to 0 with one abstention to approve a new strategic plan for that leader to implement.

The plan was developed by consultant Robert Madonia, a former superintendent at Komarek School District 94, and administrators after two nights of focus group meetings in the fall when about 55 community members discussed goals and priorities for the district. The district paid Madonia $9,000 for his work on the plan.

“I thought the process we very good,” said Jeff Miller, the president of the District 96 Board of Education. “In my mind the main purpose of the strategic plan was to start a dialogue between the community and the staff and the board and establish what the priorities are for the district, what are the areas we want to concentrate on in the next three, four, or five years.”

The plan has two main goals for each of five areas, Curriculum and Instruction, Culture and Climate, Facilities, Finance, and Human Relations. Under each goal the plan lists a few action steps which specify, usually in a very general way, how the district should achieve its goal. The strategic plan was the first such plan adopted by the district in nearly 20 years. 

The goals for curriculum and instruction are to “review and align curriculum, assessments and programming to standards in an effort to address the needs of the ‘whole child’ and all learners” and to “[E]xplore the possibility of a K-8 foreign language program.”

Introducing the study of Spanish in the district’s elementary schools almost happened in 2013, but after newly elected school board members Mary Rose Mangia, Rachel Marrello and Randy Brockway were seated, the newly constituted school board decided not to go approve a plan that had been presented by former Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson. 

Board members said they wanted to let incoming Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis review the proposal, which had been developed by a parent-staff committee. The program would have begun teaching Spanish in the first and second grades as a first step to including Spanish instruction in every grade of elementary school. 

But the subject was mostly ignored after the summer of 2013, as the board and administration turned their attention to other issues. 

The new strategic plan calls for the district to conduct a feasibility study for a potential K-8 foreign language program, to conduct an assessment to determine support for introducing foreign language study in the elementary schools and to analyze how such a program would be integrated into existing curriculum.

Most of the goals and action plans spelled out in the brochure are quite general. The controversial idea of creating a centralized location for kindergarten and the long-sought goal of all-day kindergarten is mentioned under the goal of optimizing and reconfiguring existing space to address the needs of the district. 

Mangia, who voted against hiring Madonia to do the strategic plan because she wanted to hear directly from two other applicants, abstained on the vote to adopt the strategic plan. 

“The board’s and the administration’s role seemed to be marginalized by the process,” Mangia said. “I did get some public feedback about the lack of engagement by the board at the December meeting when the draft plan was presented. The assumption seemed to be that if you paid money and followed a consultant-recommended process, the final product should be passed without comment. The board didn’t seem engaged to me.”

Co-Interim Superintendent Griff Powell said that while the brochure is pretty general, more detailed action plans developed by administrators stand behind the more broadly worded action plans in the plan itself.

“We have a lot more detail, but you want to put something out for public consumption and that’s what that brochure is,” said Powell. “That’s more for public relations.”

Miller said that the goals spelled out in the strategic plan will be taken seriously and were made part of the contract for the new superintendent, whose hire was announced at the Feb. 2 school board meeting.

“I thought what we came up with was very solid,” Miller said. “We incorporated all of the strategic planning goals into the [new] superintendent’s contract, so they have real meaning. We’re going to take them seriously over the next four or five years.”

Madonia said the focus group participants will meet annually to measure the progress that the district is making towards achieving the goals set out in the strategic plan.