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District strategy looks beyond high school to more accountable future

plan -- A 'mapping team' is helping to set a new course of action for Forest Grove's public schools

The Forest Grove School District is working on a new strategy - one that sees past graduation to college and career.

Members of a 'mapping team' of 23 administrators, teachers, parents and students have spent several months searching for ways to set a more effective course for local schools. Team members trotted out a working version of a new plan at a school board meeting March 5. Their final product - which is likely to be adopted by the board in May - will replace an old strategy that's been around for seven years.

The plan 'establishes direction, strategies, action plans and performance measures' that should help schools become more effective and turn out 'accomplished students and solid citizens,' said Kate Dickson, a facilitator hired by the district to guide the team through its paces.

Over the last six months, the group hosted focus and interest groups across the district and talked to about 300 community members, Dickson said.

'Out of that input we collected a whole notebook of information,' she said. 'We tried to extrapolate the common themes that we heard.'

Respondents were enthusiastic about the district's after-school and athletic activities and expressed a high regard for district staff. They are happy with the number of volunteers in Forest Grove schools and want good communication between staff and parents to continue.

But they also expressed concern over a lack of funding for school programs. And, they want officials to get serious about addressing the district's changing demographics, including its ability to meet the educational needs of families in poverty and those with English language learners.

For now, the team has come up with a 'framework' for a new strategic plan with built-in performance standards, said Superintendent Jack Musser. 'We included an element of informal accountability in the last strategic plan, but it wasn't very successful,' he said.

The new plan's mission statement, which is a work in progress, reads like this: 'Inspiring personal and academic excellence while preparing all students for college, career and citizenship,' a mantra that made school board member Dawn Pratt smile.

'I would be proud to see that in our district,' she said.

Among the plan's guiding principles are moves to expect 'rigorous and relevant' instruction and learning; to respect and embrace cultural diversity among the student population; and to push for graduates who are 'lifelong learners' prepared for 'college, career and citizenship.'

Karen Torry, a parent and mapping team member, said it was 'great to see how much hunger there is for risk-taking and innovation' among district patrons.

Accountability is 'really important,' Torry added. 'I'm glad to see it's been such a strong focus.'

Jennifer Frentress, the district's curriculum and school improvement director, said she appreciated 'the laser-like focus on college and career.

'We don't see the high school diploma as the end piece to the educational experience in Forest Grove,' she said.