White Bear Lake Area School District puts education first by executing on their strategic vision
White Bear Lake Area School District (WBLAS) in Ramsey County, Minnesota, is made up of a large set of schools, educators and students – 22 schools, approximately 1500 staff and just over 9,000 students, to be exact. Gaining community and organizational buy-in for their groundbreaking strategic plan, and delivering on that plan during the COVID-19 pandemic, has been an exercise in alignment and excellence.
“We’re in the fourth year of our strategic plan,” says Dr. Alison Gillespie, the Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning with WBLAS. “It started five years ago, when our superintendent, Dr. Wayne Kazmierczak, came onboard. The first thing he did was to develop a new strategic plan, which we put together by undergoing a really comprehensive process during that first year.”
The WBLAS team understood that in forming a strategic plan, they needed something that put education first while still formulating a mission that reflected the values of their community.
Doing so, says Alison, was an enormous endeavor that they did not take lightly.
“We had more than 300 community members involved in the process, along with our staff, who came together to create our strategic plan. An initial group of 30 stakeholder representatives of our community worked collaboratively to create our mission statement and district values. From there, we developed our strategic plan. The plan is unique because it’s so big. It has nine overarching strategies, and underneath each of those strategies, we have a variety of action steps and specific, desired results that were developed in concert with our community members.”
A bright future for students requires planning ahead
Ensuring that students are prepared for the challenges they may face in the future is no easy task, and requires the administrators and educators at WBLAS to remain agile and amenable to change as they work. These skills, which would prove to be useful for navigating the educational and employment challenges brought on by the pandemic, even require a bit of “un-learning” for educators.
“It’s difficult, because you’re trying to help students prepare for the future – to prepare for jobs that might not exist yet. You’re trying to develop educators and an education that gives them the skills to think critically,” says Alison.