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Strategic plan takes input from all, including ‘critical friends’

Kenowa Hills — Diversity, community and meaningful learning are some of the core values of Kenowa Hills’ strategic plan.

In January, district leaders assembled a task force to develop a strategic plan as a framework for the future of the schools, staff and students.

Since it was last revised in the fall of 2017, district leaders wanted an updated plan to emphasize a variety of stakeholder voices.

8 Core Values of the KH Strategic Plan: 
• Equity
• Meaningful learning
• Diversity
• Relationships
• Community
• Communication
• Growth mindset
• Safety

More than 2,000 students, parents, staff and community members completed online surveys about the district’s proposed strategic plan. The task force also hosted some 20 focus group sessions involving those stakeholders and made home visits to gather input. 

Brooke Davis, director of Diversity, Equity and Mental Health Services, helped coin the term “critical friends” for the committee of stakeholders who could share their input with the task force. 

“We decided to put a list together of people who might push back on our thinking, be extra eyes from different perspectives over every step of the process,” Davis said “We have people from outside organizations, parents, support staff and school members to provide their feedback.” 

Davis also worked with English- and Spanish-speaking families and led personal interviews over the phone.

Assistant superintendent Bill Dinkelmann explained the task force has been “very intentional about giving critical friends ideas to react to, so they’re not starting from scratch.

“This is a vision for what we do and how we see ourselves moving forward with our decision making,” he said. 

Planning for All Learners

The task force identified four strategic goals: teaching and learning, culture of wellness, community engagement, and safety and order.

The strategic plan will apply to “everything from transportation to food service to the classrooms,” Dinkelmann said. “Significant shifts in focus from our previous strategic plan include an emphasis on student and staff mental health as well as building our capacity to meet the academic needs of a diverse student body.”

Dinkelmann announced at a meeting with the critical friends committee that the task force was wrapping up research and data collection, and said teams will “dig into draft versions of strategic goals and objectives for the next four years.”

Strategic plan development process

While presenting an updated report at the Board of Education meeting on April 13, he noted the task force’s work on the plan’s development phase was 65% complete.

Board of Education President Tracey Hart read the draft goals at a break-out session with High School Principal Nate Robrahn and district math coach Andrew Smith. 

“Belonging is a very specific part of goal two (culture and wellness), as well as promoting positive behaviors for all learners,” Hart said. 

Added Smith: “‘Safe, supportive culture’ excites me. We’re at a time right now where that’s critical. I like providing regular access to physical and mental health services.” 

The task force plans to deliver a final product to the board of education in May. They also will maintain updated communication about the plan through email, the district’s website and the spring edition of the Knightly News newsletter.

School board treasurer Melissa Courtade, left, and Cindy Ruscett, district coordinator of assessment and achievement, discuss pros and cons of the strategic goals
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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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