“One of our biggest challenges is separating out what we have to absolutely have, and what kids would like.”
Paul Perkinson, Head of School at George Stevens Academy, was referring to facilities for student learning—the third of five goals in a just-completed strategic plan. However, that sentiment echoed throughout his and board president Marion Morris’s presentation.
The board of trustees and its committees recently finished 18 months of work creating a five-year strategic plan, presented at its annual public meeting on September 26.
The plan features a retooled mission statement and five goals: 1) make every student a success story; 2) build and maintain a great faculty; 3) provide the right facilities for student learning; 4) be accountable and forthcoming; and 5) make GSA as financially stable as possible.
Each goal has a plan of action attached—the board now faces creating timelines for them, said Morris.
“Once you pass a strategic plan, the real work begins,” she said.
Some items are already being addressed, such as student learning and facilities.
New programs in culinary arts, the Eastern Maine Skippers Program and a dual-credit physics class at Maine Maritime Academy started this year. The special education program is being made more comprehensive. A forestry and woodlot management course is being planned.
And the school has a new inner courtyard and science center. The plan calls for a learning center, more classrooms, increased cafeteria space and a nurse’s office “that can hold more than one student at a time,” Perkinson said.
A full-time nurse, and a social worker on the premises are also part of the first goal.
However, funding these changes is another thing.
Finances, Perkinson said, “are boring as dirt but everything comes from it.”
For the second year in a row, the school has balanced its budget, with its endowments and capital campaigns offsetting the $2,500-3,500 gap between student tuition (a cost set by the state for Maine students) and the real cost of educating each student.
The school raised $361,000 last year: $176,000 for its annual fund, which goes to the school’s operating budget, and $185,000 for its endowment fund.
The school counted 150 new donors to the annual fund in the last year, pointing to the plan’s goal to “develop a school-wide culture that understands and fully supports” the school’s fundraising goals.
“Is there a thought to increase that to a Peninsula-wide culture?” asked one audience member, citing the importance of GSA to the Peninsula. The point was well taken by Perkinson and Morris.
Other ideas to increase revenue are a summer camp, managing school-owned property for timber harvesting, and by increasing student enrollment—recommended by the finance committee but embraced by the administration committee, Perkinson said.
This year boasts the largest freshmen class—95 students—in the past 10 years, Morris said. The total student population is 330, which includes 36 residential students.
“This is the beginning,” said Morris, of the overall plan.
“Would it be cynical to say this is not so much a strategic plan so much as circumstance-based marketing?” asked one citizen after the presentation of the first goal. “Is your plan reactive?” He mentioned a projected 17-18 percent decline in enrollment in Peninsula schools.
“All strategic plans are marketing plans, in a way,” said Perkinson. “We want to play a role in making our Peninsula a place where people want to place their kids in 12 years of school. We’ll handle the last four.”
The plan grew out of the school’s successful reaccreditation process in 2010-11, when the New England Association of Schools and Colleges recommended GSA work on strategic planning, among other issues, which are all addressed in the five-year plan. The only one not included—procedures for student and staff safety—were so pressing that they were addressed immediately, said Perkinson after the meeting. “We’ve got it down pat.”
Prior to the annual meeting, the board bade farewell to board members Rob Clapp, Sue Loomis and Dan McGraw and approved new members Deb Ludlow and Melissa Mattes—both of whom had served the maximum of three terms of three years by 2011-12 and were now returning after a year off.