Launching a strategic planning process during a pandemic? It’s not ideal, but Riverside Elementary School District 96 is discovering that it can be done. The district has been working since the fall to develop a new strategic plan to replace the one adopted five years ago.

This week, the district is sending out a survey to parents and, through a link on the school district website home page (, has posted the survey online to get more feedback from the community. 

Ryan-Toye is hopeful that even district residents without children in District 96 schools will take a few minutes to complete the survey.

The effort is being led by Perry Soldwedel of the Consortium for Educational Change, the firm the school district has hired to help develop the new plan. 

A committee of 35 people, including administrators, staff members, two school board members, school board President Dan Hunt and board member Wesley Muirheid, parents, community members and four former District 96 students who are now in high school have been meeting virtually for the last few months to evaluate the district and try to plot a path forward.

“All our stuff is virtual, it’s all on Zoom,” said District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye. 

The district was prepared to postpone the planning process for a year if virtual meetings didn’t really work, but that has not been deemed necessary.

“I firmly believe it’s important to bring people together to talk about the big ideas and the future direction, …”

Martha Ryan-Toye, D96 Superintendent

“The modified sessions, doing it all on Zoom has been great,” Ryan-Toye said. “I firmly believe it’s important to bring people together to talk about the big ideas and the future direction, make sure that we’re really connecting with our stakeholders, and that’s our teaching staff as well as our parents and community members.”

At a recent retreat, members of the plan committee developed a so-called SWOT analysis discussing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that the district faces. A draft copy of the analysis is now on the district’s website under the strategic plan heading.

High student achievement, a highly qualified and stable staff and strong programs in arts and music were some of the strengths that were identified in the SWOT analysis. Weaknesses included the achievement gap between white students and Black and Hispanic students, the gap between student achievement in language arts and math, and the social-emotional well-being curriculum and supports.

The district hopes to complete the new strategic plan by April 13.