Welcome to the third blog post in the Region 5 Comprehensive Center’s Strategic Budgeting series. As outlined in our first post, we are walking through the five elements of Strategic Budgeting to help provide additional tools to local education officials who want to think about their budgets with a wider lens.
Today’s post is the second of two about Identifying Vision and Goals. You can read the other one here.
Different Ways to Assess Your Vision and Goals
Not everyone may feel the way you do about your district’s vision and goals. Some people may think they’re fine as they are. Others may have wanted to revise them for years. While a third group might wish you focused on “more important” things. Wherever you personally fall on this question, as outlined in our previous post, COVID-19 provides a rare opportunity to at least review your vision and goals to determine if they still meet your district’s needs.
There are several ways to approach such a task, and you can combine them in any way you see fit, or invent your own approach. Several options are listed below.
Option 1: Reality check
Here you simply determine if the vision and goals still reflect what is going on in the district. Do the priorities listed in the vision and goals still ring true? Are they reflected in recent budget and policy decisions the district has made? Is student achievement data organized by subject area, grade level, or student groups? The answers to these questions can help you determine if revision is warranted. As noted in our last post, you will need to assess your resources and use data (two of the other elements of strategic budgeting) to get this done. For example, one analysis of state-level education goals in Illinois concludes that they were not realistic, given the challenges and resources available.
Option 2: The squeaky wheel
This approach might seem like it’s a cop-out, but it can be useful. Basically, if there’s something about your vision and goals that is often criticized or just unliked, that could be a sign that it should be examined for revision. You can communicate with others in the district, or use data to determine if there’s an obvious problem that could be addressed by a revision to the vision and goals. For example, one suburban district in eastern Long Island, New York, identified “summer slide” among its English Learner population as an impediment to their overall student achievement. As outlined in this article, solving this problem was prioritized, and grants were used to fund a summer program that targeted the affected students.
Option 3: Become a pollster
Sometimes there’s no obvious need to revise your vision and goals, but a little digging could reveal that need. So, you can ask your colleagues at the district office, as well as the school board, how they feel about the current vision and goals. You can also reach out to stakeholders, like parents and community members to assess how they feel and what they would like to change.
Option 4: Use your usual process
Perhaps you live in one of those magic places that has recently gone through this process and it ended well. If that’s the case, there’s no need to fix what isn’t broken. Just use whatever process worked the last time, and feel free to modify it with lessons learned.
Designing a Process to Constructively Revise Your Vision and Goals
Once you’ve assessed your current vision and goals, if you decide to revise them, you’ll want to think deliberately about how to go about that process. No one wants to sit in endless meetings that don’t accomplish anything. On the other hand, you probably don’t want to open things up so wide that you get bombarded with unhelpful input that can sap time, effort, and money from other priorities. However you design it, research shows the importance of goals. One meta-analysis concluded that collaborative goal setting is valuable, as is broad alignment of those goals, and broad support for them. In addition, they point out the importance of monitoring progress toward goals, and aligning resources toward those goals.
We recommend that you set up a deliberative process that will maximize the likelihood of success, while minimizing unhelpful detours. Such an approach is likely to have several of these features.
Work sessions with committed stakeholders
I love meetings filled with people who want to constructively address a problem. I hate them when they have no direction or have bomb throwers in them. Use the tools we will outline later in our posts on communicating with the district, to identify interested members of the community (e.g., teachers, staff, parents, and community leaders) who would be willing to—alongside selected district staff—devote a certain number of hours over a specified number of days or weeks to develop a draft of your new vision and goals. This is a big ask of people, but they would also get a seat at the table and have their voices heard.
Public comment periods
Your district or state may require that changes like this be put out for public comment. But if not, it is often useful for drafts of the new vision and goals to be discussed in public, either through a school board meeting or email or other online process. While some of the comments may not be feasible or useful, shutting out the public also can mean you’re missing an important part of the community’s beliefs, expectations, and priorities.
Integrating the new vision and goals with your budget
As you’ll see in our later discussions on using data and assessing resources, your vision and goals should seamlessly flow from your budget decisions, and vice versa. So, as your review process is underway, be sure that you can realistically tie your budget to the new vision and goals.
Remember That This Is Just One Piece of the Puzzle
As noted last week, these techniques should not be performed alone. We think that by systematically reviewing your vision and goals, you’ll be able to also better assess resources, use data, communicate with your district, and use the tools of continuous improvement to help you ensure that your district’s budget decisions reflect and guide your values. You may find additional useful resources on the National Comprehensive Center’s webpage on Financial Transparency and Decision Making.
Stay Tuned for the Next Element: Assessing Resources
In our next post, we’re going to begin the discussion of the next of the five elements: Assessing Resources. We hope you will join us. In the meantime, let us know if you have any questions or suggestions. You can reach us at BradKeller@westat.com.
New posts will appear on the CCNetwork on Monday mornings, so feel free to bookmark that page. This is the third post in the series; if you want to start at the beginning of the series, go here. The next post is about assessing resources, and can be found here.
KEEPING UP WITH OUR POSTS
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Thanks to those who joined us for our first virtual office hours. These monthly opportunities to virtually join live with the authors, ask questions, provide feedback, and discuss the topics explored in this series are for one hour on the last Tuesday of the month, at 1 pm Eastern Time. You can click here to register and add the event to your calendar. This month’s office hour is Tuesday, October 26 from 1-2 pm Eastern Time/Noon Central Time.
This blog post is in the public domain. While permission to reprint is not necessary, this publication should be cited. The blog post is prepared by the Region 5 Comprehensive Center under Award #S283B190030 for the Office of Program and Grantee Support Services (PGSS) within the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) of the U.S. Department of Education, and is administered by Westat. The content of the blog post does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the PGSS or OESE or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.
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