Comprehensive Plan News
USD 373 is now moving from designing a strategic vision for the district to implementation of the vision and design of a plan that includes action steps for addressing the recommendations from the planning process. Staff and board members will be working to create "the place where the passion for learning leads to creativity." #placetobe373
At this time, the Board is spending significant time addressing the facility portion of the comprehensive plan. You might be asking why would we begin there. For me, the short answer is because it takes so long to move from deciding to do something about facilities to actually breaking ground or renovating space. The process is slow and although some are surprised by the current board discussions, this is a process that has been underway since November of 2014. By virtue of timing, if not concern over the timetable, the Board will not be passing a resolution to move forward with a bond election in May. The next earliest date to be considered is September. There are pros and cons to any potential bond election dates in the next year. As a reminder, whenever there is a bond election, it is projected that it will take a year from the approval of the electorate to move forward to the actual onset of work beginning. The length of time includes the drafting, reviewing, and approving of specific designs to address the projects; writing bids for contractors that describe thoroughly the projects; opening and approving bids; interviewing and hiring contractors; and then setting timelines and finalizing details.
The "big" components of the recommendations that are being discussed include a major renovation of the high school, determination of how to deal with current capacity issues at Santa Fe and Chisholm, determination of how to address facility needs for Walton Rural Life Center. For Newton High School, the "major renovation" can be described in this way: the original (44 year old part of the high school) will be stripped back to the exterior shell and rebuilt. This includes all areas that have not been touched during previous bond issues. While there are no specific designs (that will come later in the process), the plan will be to redesign the current academic space to address needs for flexibility (not to be confused with walls that can move and yet never move), collaborative space, and 21st century learning environments. This renovation will include new HVAC throughout the building, new lighting, and basically new everything. The spaces in the main building that were built in the 1997 bond will receive minor renovation to include HVAC and lighting (among addressing any other needs). Other areas of the high school such as Ravenscroft Gym and the swimming pool will be renovated. Some identified concerns such as not enough seating in the pool area may not be able to be addressed due to space issues, but the 44-year old pool itself will be addressed.
The significant renovation at the high school will require the creation of new space in order to be able to do the renovations in phases. On a conceptual floor plan, the "new space" was identified as an auxiliary gym. Based on our current needs, the new space will not be an auxiliary gym. But in order to come up with some preliminary figures, the architectural firm, DLR, used a gym as holder space. The new space could be one of a variety of ideas including a science wing or a performing arts center. Determining exactly what is needed/desired is key to moving forward. It is projected that the renovation process will take approximately 30 months once the work begins. During that time, classrooms will be moved multiple times in order to accommodate work continuing year round.
Both Santa Fe and Chisholm Middle School (approximate enrollment at each school - 500) are at capacity for the buildings. This means that there is not sufficient classroom space to accommodate additional students. Class size already exceeds 25 many times on a limited basis. The current first grade class has 270 students in it. If we retain all of those students, the class size for all 5th grade teachers in a few years will be 27+. By repurposing some space, we might be able to add one more class; however that in and of itself creates many issues from space for lunches to specials (electives) classes to scheduling issues. A similar condition exists at Chisholm. If the community grows (city projection is 1-2% per year), the current space is not going to be sufficient for the next 20 years. As a reminder, the comprehensive plan is attempting to address current and future needs. The district is working with a demographer to learn what our current enrollment shows us as well as what our future needs might be. As you can imagine there are many unknowns such as businesses that might move to town or other economic factors that might influence community growth.
During the 1997 and 2007 bond campaigns, Walton Rural Life Center had limited work done (addition of three classrooms and storm shelter). Since that time, the school population has grown due to the development of the charter school with project-based learning and agricultural focus. The school now houses 200 students and does not have the space or features that other elementary schools in the district have. This is an emotional issue given the location of the school and the significant needs to be addressed. The Board and district administration are committed to continuing the program (project-based, agricultural focus) that is the Rural Life Center. The community input gathered during the comprehensive planning process clearly indicates that the community supports growing programs such as what is offered at WRLC. However, something must be done to address the issues because there are not comparable facilities at all elementary schools, the space that is at WRLC does not address the educational program being offered, there is not sufficient space in "town" schools to move all of the school population into the existing elementary schools, and the modular classroom space that was added was a temporary solution. So, once again, the solution needs to address current and future needs.
These are the big pieces of the facilities needs that we are working to address. Smaller, yet important, projects will include security cameras, keyless entry points, technology infrastructure upgrades, and tornado safety enhancements at other schools. Wow! That's a lot of work!!
Kevin Greischar, Vince Haines and Joe Breidenbach presented the Comprehensive Plan website to the board members and answered questions. There was discussion on what the next steps will be and who will make recommendations in moving forward with the information gained through this Comprehensive Plan. Board members consented to having district administration review the plan and make recommendations to the Board at a special meeting scheduled for Monday, January 23, 2017 at 7:00 p.m. Dick Koontz thanked DLR Group/Gravity Works for their work on the Comprehensive Plan.
Kevin Griescher, Vince Haines and Joe Breidenbach from DLR Group-Gravity Works presented information on the Comprehensive Plan beginning with early discussions with board members on identifying the district’s Mission and Vision to community group discussions. Two main goals were established in these discussions: 1) safe environment and 2) challenging all students no matter their ability or culture. A draft of the digital Comprehensive Plan was presented with the final copy ready in 3-4 weeks.
Kevin Griescher from DLR Group gave an update on the comprehensive plan and timeline of upcoming scheduled meetings. He showed some enrollment and building capacity numbers and a few different scenarios to consider. The final document is scheduled to be complete and presented to the board at the November 14 board meeting. There is a community meeting scheduled for October 18 at South Breeze Elementary in the media center, 7:00 p.m.
Vince Haines and Joe Breidenbach from DLR Group/Gravity Works were present to provide an overview of the data collected from meetings with community members, teachers and building visits. Data charts on facility condition and educational performance for each building were reviewed. They will resume meeting with various groups this fall. Another building tour with the Community Vision Team will also be planned.
Vince Haines with DLR/Gravity Works gave an update on strategic planning. The facilitators will begin pulling together the information received from the Community Vision Team, Education Team and Community Stakeholder meetings and begin to form a strategic plan outline. The various teams will resume meeting in the fall.
Kevin Greischer with DLR Group gave an update on strategic planning and the progress made during community stakeholders and community vision team meetings. The next community stakeholders meeting is scheduled for May 25, location to be determined.
Board President Dick Koontz gave an update on the Strategic Planning process. There was good discussion at the April 19 community meeting and another one has been scheduled for May 4 at 9:30 in the Fine Arts Center at Bethel College. Dick has contacted all participants of the Community Vision Team (CVT) either by phone or e-mail to invite them to the next CVT meeting on May 9 and suggested that board members think of a few more people to invite. The strategic planning facilitators have met with Dr. Hamm, Dick and Barbara Bunting and have suggested extending the timeline for completion into the fall of 2016. This will be done at no additional cost. Joni Jantz will send CVT participation to all board members.
Board President Dick Koontz gave an update on the Strategic Planning process. Board members discussed the expectations of the process and what the final end result will be. To increase participation for the Community Vision Team, they suggested that the meeting times and days be varied to accommodate schedules of those attending. The next community meeting is scheduled for April 19 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church from 7:00-8:00 pm.
Vince Haines reported on the strategic planning discussions from recent meetings with the educators, community vision team and community at large. Work continues on defining the district’s mission and vision and moving forward through the comprehensive planning process.
Comprehensive Planning (Previously Known as Strategic Planning)
On February 24, 2016, the Board of Education met with representative from DLR Group and Gravity Works to continue the development of a comprehensive (strategic) plan for the district. Kevin Greischar and Vince Haines led the discussion and refinement process.
The Board affirmed the district mission statement: The mission of the Newton School Community is to prepare our student to be capable, contributing participants in a changing world. The Board revised the draft of the vision statement to read: The vision of the Newton School Community is: USD 373 - The place where the passion for learning, leads to creativity.
The Board then began a process for developing guiding principles that will "help focus the work of the committee and clarify important decisions when individual interests and desires come in conflict with the overall goal." There were seven principles drafted:
- Education shall be Student Centered.
- Education shall Promote Creativity and Collaboration.
- Education shall be Technology Rich.
- Education shall foster Good Stewardship.
- Education shall have a Balanced Curriculum.
- Planning and Programming shall Ensure Safety and Security.
- Educational Planning shall instill Flexibility.
Board members responded to seven (7) questions regarding their perceptions of educational pedagogies of the district at this point in time.
- In response to a question regarding student centered or teacher centered, 72% had the opinion that the district is more teacher centered.
- When responding to a question regarding "next generation" thinking skills, 58% had the opinion that our facilities support thinking skills based on knowledge skills with some content and problem solving skills.
- A question regarding the type of learning focus in the district, found that 72% had the opinion that the focus of learning was based on traditional content moving towards "next generation literacies."
- When asked about the application of learning, 77% had the opinion that learning is being applied with an emphasis on classroom theory with some real-world relevance.
- In response to a question about who is responsible for learning, 78% had the opinion the responsibility for learning is an equal balance between the student and teacher.
- Responding to a question about the learning environment, 100% of the responders shared the opinion that learning environments are more traditional based with the focus being on the teacher.
- The last question was about the flexibility of the learning environment found that 78% of the responders had the opinion that the flexibility is considered durable/permanent with a little responsiveness to the curriculums/programs offered.
The entire summary report from the February 24, 2016 Board of Education can be accessed here.
The Visioning and Strategic Planning Process is moving forward. On the evening of Monday, December 14, the Board and 19 of the invited community members met with Lester Limon to begin reviewing the fields of inquiry.
Mr. Limon reviewed the process to this point and shared the mantra, "USD 373 - the place to be!" He explained the appreciative inquiry model and the fields of inquiry currently being considered: Teaching and Learning, Relationships, and Assets and Resources. Mr. Limon showed the attendees how the next steps would emerge through the setting of goals for each of the fields of inquiry and development of a comprehensive strategic plan. The final step in the process will be the development of a master plan for each of three fields of inquiry. He shared that the fields are fluid and the input of the community at this stage is critical. These fields are not set in stone and will likely evolve as we proceed through this process.
After revealing the process, Mr. Limon posed questions to the community members including: What's important to you? What are your opinions?
Board and community members spent the almost two hours engaged in dialogue. While there are three fields of inquiry, the time was spent discussing Teaching and Learning. Three elements of teaching and learning were revealed: rigor, relevance, and results. Some comments or questions that were shared included:
- Work ethic is a disposition. How will we measure?
- The rigor is shaped by the relationship.
- It is good if we know where we are. What's the measurement? How do we know if we have gotten better?
- Curriculum needs to include creative and critical thinking and problem-solving.
- Newton is known for its collaboration. Build on that reputation and collaborate more with business owners and industry.
- Relevant to whom?
- It is important for students to have the ability to see opportunity.
The Board of Education, at its Monday, November 9 meeting, continued in the process of developing a vision for USD 373. After a great deal of discussion, board members settled on three fields of inquiry: Teaching and Learning, Relationships, and Assets and Resources. These fields of inquiry will guide the next steps.
In the notes provided to the board, Lester Limon states:
- Teaching and Learning speaks to a number of different and diverse topics; for example, curriculum and curriculum development falls easily under this category, but so too does staff development, materials, environments, strategies, goals, and finance. It is also broad enough to encompass students, parents, educators and district staff.
- Relationships speaks to the essential action of creating bonds between all sorts of members. It is one of the soft-skills that we want our own students to learn, just as it is critical between teacher and student. Relationships form the core of our communication and it is these connections that can be leveraged into resources for the district and for the community.
- Assets and Resources speaks to the larger notion that the district has a means to accomplish its goals and missions through those tangible things that we have, and those intangibles that we can draw upon. Some assets are inside our control and some are outside our control, but still critical to our delivery and success.
BOE Begins Strategic Planning Process
The Board of Education has begun its work on a strategic plan that will guide the work of the district for many years to come.