Stillwater News Press

January 4, 2014

Strategic planning committee examines school district’s five-year direction

By Mark Rountree
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — Where does Stillwater see itself as a school district five years from now?

Stillwater Public Schools intends to answer that question with the assistance of a strategic planning committee.

The 30-member committee, formed last fall, is comprised of teachers, support staff, administrators, parents and community members. The panel meets twice each month to talk about curriculum, personnel, finance and other school-related issues. The committee will meet through the spring. The district then will send out a survey to staff, parents and community leaders, asking about the strengths and weaknesses of the district.

“What we want is to get a really good feel from everyone, not just the parents in our schools,” said Superintendent Ann Caine. “We want to know what they think we do well and what they think we could do better.”

The results of the survey will be turned over to the committee to help devise a five-year plan.

‘The strategic plan is a big deal for us,” Caine said. “This will guide us as we go through the next five years.”

Rebecca Eastham, director of business and industry services at Meridian Technology Center, was hired by the district to facilitate the five-year plan.

Part of the five-year plan is to create mission and vision statements for the district.

“The ones we have now are really old,” Caine said. “They have survived several superintendents.”

The district is operating on a 10-year long-range facilities plan, which was used to craft items in the $61.5 million bond issue in February 2011.

Assistant Superintendent Terry McCarty, whose is in charge of operations, will reconvene the long-range facilities committee next fall to devise capital improvement strategies for the second half of the 10-year plan. The result of their research and discussions will appear on the 2017 bond election.

‘Amazing’ school unveiled

Deconstruction continues at Will Rogers Elementary School on North Washington Street. Crews have made good progress clearing away the old building and concrete foundations. The detention pond between the old school and the new school is only temporary and will be filled in when the old building has been removed. The old building should be cleared away by May. In its place will be a soccer field, green space, the front driveway and a parking lot, and reveal an unobstructed view of the new school.

“That building is going to look so amazing,” Caine said.

There will be an open house for public viewing of the school and the grounds next fall. The construction of the new school was the second in the district this year. Highland Park Elementary School was completed and opened to students on the first day of school. Will Rogers was not ready for students until late October. Caine said Highland Park will have a formal open house in the next couple of months.

More building on the way

The district isn’t finished building new schools. The top project on the 2017 bond will be the construction of a new facility for Westwood Elementary School.

A study session was held at Westwood last summer to discuss the details of a new school. Debate continues whether a new school should be built on the existing site on Sixth Avenue or in the far western portion of the district.

“That will be a conversation we will have with the (school) board over the next year and one-half to figure out what’s the best location,” Caine said.

Caine said one-third of Westwood students live in the neighborhood. Two-thirds of Westwood students live west of Country Club Road.

Caine said the district enjoys the relationship Westwood has with Oklahoma State University, but there are ongoing concerns about the elementary school being located adjacent to a busy state highway.

Sports complex plans continue

The district will initiate a long-range fundraising effort to finance the construction of a sports complex at Cimarron Plaza. The 35-acre area north of Pioneer Stadium on Boomer Road would include baseball and softball fields and tennis courts as well as a wellness center, natatorium and indoor practice facility.

Conceptual renderings of what the athletic village may look like have been completed with the suggestions of boosters, coaches and community members.

Caine hopes a five-year fundraising campaign will be adequate enough to fund the multi-million dollar project.

“Hopefully we won’t have to think about putting it on a bond election,” Caine said. “We’ll just see how the (fundraiser) goes. We’ve never done this before. This is something new — major private fundraising.”

Grade report not going away

The Oklahoma State Department of Education rolled out the A-F Report Cards last year, and the school evaluation method was met with disdain by many administrators, teachers and parents.

In November, the state issued the grade reports again, and they were met with much the same disdain.

Stillwater schools fared well overall.

Six of the nine schools in the Stillwater district earned an “A” in the evaluation.

“A-F isn’t probably going to change. I don’t see it going away,” Caine said. “I still have concerns over the impact that poverty has on A-F.”

Caine said the majority of low school grades occured in schools with high poverty.

“Something has to be done to the formula to equalize it so that poverty does not determine a school’s grade,” she said.

Caine said the Stillwater district will not complain about the system, but learn from it and adapt.

Gay Washington, assistant superintendent in charge of educational services, has been working with teachers to understand the data.

“We knew we were doing the right thing looking at data,” Caine said, “but we’re doing it even better, and A-F has caused us to do that.”

Common Core on the way

Several bills will be introduced in the upcoming legislative session to repeal or modify Common Core State Standards, which become fully operational at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.

“Common Core, at least in Stillwater, is good for students,” Caine said. “We appreciate the rigor. Living in Stillwater, with OSU in our backyard, the expectations are really high.”

To prepare for the change, the Stillwater district has been implementing Common Core for the last three years.

To prepare, educators have been re-writing curriculum maps so they align with Common Core standards.