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by Rich Hewitt
The George Stevens Academy trustees last week outlined the scope of its five-year strategic planning process that touches on all areas of the high school’s operations.
Although some of the planning sub-committees are just getting into their task, Head of School Paul Perkinson said the final planning document will be “both practical and visionary,” that will allocate the school’s limited resources to meet the real needs of GSA students. The process, he said, will be ongoing and will create yearly roadmaps as well as fluid 24- and 36-month prioritized goals that might change depending on the situation.
“We’re always trying to meet the real needs of students even as we are developing a plan for the future,” Perkinson said. “The plan we develop will guide us in the decisions and choices we will inevitably have to make in the coming years.”
Although the planning process has a wide scope, newly elected board chairman Marion Morris stressed there will be much at the school that will not change.
“We’re not looking for a wholesale change at the school,” Morris said. “We’re not trying to recreate GSA.”
According to Morris, the planning process grew out of the most recent accreditation through the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and the self-study and recommendations in the NEASC final report. Based on those reports, a strategic planning steering committee established seven strategic planning sub-committees, each co-chaired by a member of the administration or faculty and a trustee and including staff, faculty, parents and other community members.
Those sub-committees and their co-chairs are: Governance, Rob Clapp, trustee and Liffey Thorpe, director of communications; Program, Mark Messer, ESL instructor and Tyler Knowles, trustee; Student Life, Jim Henry, trustee and Libby Rosmeier, dean of students; Facilities, Buzz Moore, interim assistant head of school and Dan McGraw, trustee; Development, Deborah Brewster, trustee and Rada Starkey, director of development; Admissions, Libby Carmichael, director of admissions; and Finance, Fred Heilner, business manager and Emil Andy, trustee.
While the final planning document will not be complete until next summer, committees already have discussed some potential recommendations that often affect other committees. Trustee Taylor Knowles, for example, said the program committee had discussed the idea of reducing the current full-time course load for teachers.
“We’re asking our teachers to do much more than is healthy,” she said.
She said the committee has discussed reducing the six-course full-time load to five courses without reducing teacher salaries, affecting the diversity of courses or increasing the class size. That will likely affect finances and require additional classrooms, she said.
While the Student Life committee has tackled issues including faculty development, the role of student ambassadors and the independent study program, trustee Jim Henry, said they also have addressed the criticism from NEASC that GSA is not making use of its location.
“We’re surrounded by three bays,” he said, “and we don’t do anything related to coastal waters.”
He said they have talked about working with Maine Maritime Academy and already have begun to develop a marine biology program. In addition, he said, it was important to look at a program in marine trades as well.
The Facilities committee is looking at developing a comprehensive “needs/wants” list for the school buildings that will include regular maintenance, major safety improvement items as well as the big ticket items, as well as smaller items that will benefit the school, according to Moore. Items on that list could include: a new roof between the academy building and the science wing, improvements to the locker room and cafeteria areas, construction of a clearly defined entrance to the school and a performing arts building, as well as energy efficiency projects and creating more green space throughout the campus.
The Finance and Development committees deal with the funding that will be affected by the recommendations of the other committees. Trustee Deborah Brewster said that part of the work will be to identify the best structure to support the school’s development office.
“We need to have a structure to support the development office for fundraising while they continue to work on the Annual Fund,” she said.
The committee plans to look at how other schools deal with development and also provide professional development for the development staff and for trustees. Brewster said the committee also will look at ways to educate GSA constituents to the school’s development needs.
The Finance committee will look at the chief financial needs of the school, the regular sources of income as well as its expenses, according to Heilner. It will look at ways to enhance the revenue stream and to better monitor that revenue stream throughout the year. Heilner said the committee also would look at the impact of the school’s real estate holdings on its overall finances.
The Admissions committee will work to develop a message that “resonates with the community,” according to Chamberlain. To do that, she said, the committee will survey former students asking why they chose to attend GSA and also research students who chose not to attend the school. It will look at ways to refine its recruitment and admissions materials, and to review assessment practices in order to develop a smooth transition to high school for all students. The committee also will review its open admission policy, financial aid and reassess its target enrollment.
The Governance committee deals primarily with the board, its authority and its relations to other school constituents, according to Clapp. Much of the discussion, he said, stems from the decision 10 years ago to do away with the long-standing two-board structure and to adopt the current single-board structure. The committee is working to ensure that the trustees themselves have a “clear and shared understanding” of its role, authority and the work it does and to find ways to better communicate that to the faculty, staff, parents and the general community. It will work to develop a strong relationship with the head of school without trying to micro-manage the day-to-day operations of the school, and will develop a process of self-evaluation and assessment.
According to trustee chairman Morris, the committees will continue their work through the winter and review their recommendations at the trustee retreat scheduled for March. Their final recommendations will be due at the end of April. A draft of the strategic plan will go to the board and, after board approval, will be published in June or July.