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When Strategic Planning? Channeling MI debate energy to true global thinking

Original post made by A.J., Green Acres, on Feb 1, 2007

I think this whole debate could have been a lot more positive if there had been an official way to channel the whole process through strategic planning. There could have been a lot more problem-solving. Instead of arguing whether we should or shouldn't do one thing (MI) based on speculation about what we can and can't do in the big picture, we could have been getting down to brass tacks to figure out how to get the most with what we actually have.

Several posters have spoken eloquently to the need to discuss MI in the broader context of district needs and priorities. Had this happened, I think this could have significantly decreased opposition to MI and allowed for more creative solutions.

I still don't even have a vague idea of how the strategic planning process will happen, and to what extent the community can be involved. Also, how can community members get access to information about other issues involved in the strategic plan before the discussions begin? Anyone???

It would be great to see people channel all this energy into debating and refining the big picture. Ultimately, we would get more done.

Comments (13)

Posted by Daunna
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 2, 2007 at 5:34 am

The strategic planning group is large -- about 160, as I recall. Each school selects representatives, so you'll most likely be seeing people in leadership positions from the PTA, site council, teachers, principals, counselors, and several top administrators. I don't think there's any particular way to get much info about what will be discussed beforehand because it is a 3-day brainstorming process and takes on a life of its own. Participants don't have homework beforehand--they just bring the knowledge in their heads. It works because the people involved have different specialties and different perspectives but also have a fairly broad range of knowledge of what is going on and how things work at their schools and in the district.

Participants will be divided into groups of 10-20 (different sizes at different times). The groups may all have the same topic or different topics according to the task and individual interests. Participants don't cluster with their friends; instead they are divided up to get a good mix & K-12 cross-section. Imagine taking a big ball of dough and dividing into into 10 or 12 smaller balls. Add a pinch of different spices to each ball and knead each ball, and then put all the balls together and knead. Redivide and knead, then reblend and knead again.. Let rise overnight, then the next day, repeat the process on a different set of topics. The third day the dough gets divided into 2 or 3 big balls and shaped into loaves, and voilà, those loaves become our new strategic goals.

Posted by AAAG pRe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2007 at 8:23 am

Sounds just like an AAAG Meeting

Posted by A.J.
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 2, 2007 at 8:47 am

A lot has been said about how disconnected MI advocates have been from strategic goals, how little they have incorporated the needs of the district in their vision -- although strategic planning sounds like a dynamic and productive process, it doesn't sound that easy to involve a group with a specific goal like MI. How can MI advocates, as well as advocates for restoring Measure A priorities, etc., have a voice and be a part in the process?

Posted by Andrea
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 2, 2007 at 9:09 am

AJ, I think the BOE jumped the gun approving the Language Task Force. They may have garnered more concensus by waiting until the community has the opportunity to express whether they indeed do place FLES as a high priority, which has not previously been the case. To start the process now still leaves a lot of questions about how FLES jumped to the head of the line with funding for an implementation study. That can't feel too comfortable for some of us who are still looking at the same issues which led us to oppose MI. I would have preferred that the BOE take Gail Price's lead and wait for the new priorities study and strategic plan to see where FLES fits. Also, by then some of the district's resources and budget issues may be resolved, or at least revealed, and a comprehensive strategy can be developed. As it stands now, we are once again putting the cart before the horse, at considerable cost to the district's budget and staff resources.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2007 at 9:16 am


I respectfully disagree with you about the Language Tast Force. Whereas I do agree that FLES is one of those areas where we haven't even agreed if we want it, languages in our middle and high schools are in a mess. There is no flow from middle to high school (the way the boundaries are messed up with peer streaming issues, etc.) and no overall policy. There is Spanish for Spanish speakers, but since we have such a high population who already speak other languages, there are no other language classes for those proficient in a language and want to study it to a higher level. Yes we do need to discuss the needs for elementary schools, but only when the secondary school language department has an overall vision. This way, we can start at the top or where we already have programs, and work back to the beginning. I know it is a bit like putting the cart before the horse, but when we have the futures of our secondary students at stake and they are already in the system, we cannot afford the time to start at the bottom. We need to sort out their needs first, decide what we want for our future high schoolers and work backwards.

Posted by Andrea
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 2, 2007 at 9:29 am

Parent, I agree with you about the secondary school language programs. I would support a task force which focuses on them instead of how to bring FLES. I fear from the postings however, that the FLES issue is more appealing, more trendy and we will be led down that path first.

Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 2, 2007 at 10:22 am

I hope to serve on the World Languages Task force, which by its very name suggest something more than a FLES advocacy group.

This is a huge issue, of which language education at the elementary schools (of which FLES and Immersion can be a part) is a very important part, but not the only part.

I also think this task force can help inform the priority setting and the strategic planning cycle, it does not have to see where language instruction comes out on the priority list to do that.

My own opinion is that there was some flaw in the priority setting process last time, and that has a great deal to do with why language was not included as a priority, or if it was decided not to be made a priority, given explicit, clear reasons for it not being included. Strategic plans can be a great tool, but there are gaps in them from time to time, and not addressing language at all, even to say "No, not a priority" suggests to me a gap. But, it's time to move on, focus on what's next, not what did or did not happen in the last priority setting process.

What is the benefit to not moving on getting this task force started? I see none, and I see tremendous benefit to the District in launching this soon, and being able to use its work as much as possible as the strategic plan is developed.

Posted by Pauline
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Feb 2, 2007 at 12:28 pm

If I remember correctly, I heard consensus from the Board that the Strategic Planning process needs to be re-worked. I heard specifically that it needs to end up with a more specific, goal oriented, clearly prioritized plan which would guide decisions over the next 3 years.

It seems that if this is the case, there would be no problem in a World Language Task force building an overall plan for how to deliver foreign language instruction from k-12, developing foreign language goals for outcome and numbers of students served, and prioritizing, in order, which grade/which program should be addressed.

For example, it may be that it determines that, first priority is that all 6th graders have access to foreign language instruction, not being forced to choose between that and music. We do that, and concurrently offer summer 4 hour immersion programs for 5th graders and up, since their language skills could then be supported by classes at the middle school level. Then, it might say that once resources or priorities allow, we offer foreign language to all 5th graders, and we then begin offering immersion summer school post 4th grade. It might conclude that, as priorities and resources allow, we gradually lower the grades at which all kids have access to foreign language, until all kids have access. Then it might say that once that happens, we provide an immersion program, within x,y,z parameters.

It seems to me that it is good planning to have a World Language District plan, and that in this way, once the Strategic Planning process happens, we can fold in foreign language goals and plans into that plan. It seems we must put in place a "recipe" to implement one by one, as the ingredients become available.

Posted by Pauline
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Feb 2, 2007 at 12:34 pm

Sorry, I got diverted in what I meant to ask. I have a particular interest in the Strategic Planning part.

Given that the Board thinks that the process is not adequate...

I am interested in the thoughts of people who have been through it. I want to hear what you think can be done to make it more specifically accountable, with specific and prioritized short and long term goals for the district.

I am imagining a way of getting data on all of our programs that measures each program's effectiveness concerning outcome. Then determining which programs can be set into "maintenance" mode, and which ones should move to the top of the heap, so to speak. And which new ones should be brought in and where they would go.

Perhaps with the equivalent of a benchmark study that compares our programs and outcomes with the top 50 districts in our nation, for example. So that we could have a measuring stick.

What are your thoughts?

Posted by Another Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2007 at 1:34 pm

I am hoping that the board will be bringing in a new superintendent (and assistant super?) that will come to PAUSD with some brilliant managment skills. In a corporations, the highest level executives are paid the big bucks to lead strategic thinking. Hopefully our new senior exec will bring new ideas on how a strategy setting process should work.

I think the process should definitely include the new Superintendent, even if it means putting off for a couple months to get that person on board. Waiting a little longer for a good, fair, solid process is better than a broken, hasty process lead by someone in whom we've lost faith.

Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 2, 2007 at 5:36 pm

It will be great if the new superintendent has "brilliant managment skills" and can lead the strategy-setting process. But my experience in corporations has been that "the highest level executives are paid the big bucks to lead strategic thinking," but that doesn't mean they all have that capability.

I just hope that the strategy sessions don't mainly focus on languages because of the recent MI debate. I'd like to see math and science at the top of the list, ensuring that every school and every grade level are getting the best possible teachers and programs in those areas. That's what kids need to be successful in today's world.

Posted by A.J.
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 4, 2007 at 1:16 pm

Although all of the messages have been informative, it still doesn't sound like there's a clear way for MI advocates (and those interested in solving a host of language issues, such as starting FLES, middle school language flow, etc.) and those interested in other priorities that have been brought up, such as music and science facilities, to become involved in the strategic planning process. I see the why MI advocates were so frustrated to be asked to further their concerns as part of a strategic plan, with no concrete way for them to do this.

As a community member, I want a lot of transparency in the strategic planning process, and to be educated about all of the issues and district deficits that have led to the recent controversy, to understand the big picture of what we need to do for our schools. I am interested in bringing language to our schools, but I think music and PE are big priorities as well, and I want to know how everything fits in the big picture -- not only to avoid the kind of fiasco we just went through with MI, but to figure out how to get the most accomplished.

Should our school district be so dependant on a superintendant that we have to wait to find a new one before ironing out procedural problems in strategic planning that led to this fiasco? I think we owe it to the kids to work on it now -- especially with the board members showing how thoughtful they are about the importance of strategic planning.

Getting back to the specific issue, how can MI advocates be a constructive part of the strategic plan, so that they can find a way to perhaps give our district this asset as part of the big picture? Although I do not personally think a charter school is the best course and will probably just recreate the controversy, if they don't have a way of working through a strategic plan, what other choice do they have if they want to work for this asset for this district? (That was not a rhetorical question -- I am asking for specific information on what other choice they have!!)

Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 4, 2007 at 2:02 pm


Here are my suggestions on how to get involved:

--provide the BoE with your thoughts about what the selection criterea should be when the search for the next superintendent gets under way; find out what community involvement is proposed to be in the selection process, advocate another approach if you think it is better than what is proposed

--ask to be included on a task force of people who contribute to the strategic planning process, at least, or be on the strategic planning committee, if that is possible. I honestly do not know who was on it last time, or how it was constituted, but it should not be that hard to find out. However it was organized last time, there should be a clear understanding in the community of its make up before it work in undertaken

--get involved with candidates who run for school board, consider doing so yourself if you are so inclined

Much detail remains to be addressed and the courses of action determined since the meeting last Tuesday, about many things apart from world language policy. It would be great if some of the folks with positive energy, irregardless of the point of view they had about the MI question recently addressed, got involved directly with some of this stuff in town.

And BTW, it can be quite fun and rewarding, although a bit of resiliency is needed, even when one serves as a humble Parks and Recreation Commissioner.

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