TCAPS strategic plan's in place

·5 min read

Aug. 5—TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Area Public Schools board of education approved its three-year strategic plan that the district administration and trustees have worked on for more than a year.

The plan, which was developed over three hours-long meetings between TCAPS trustees, administrators and staff leaders, will serve as a guide for the district's academic and operational goals for the next three years. The strategic plan is titled "COMPASS" which is an acronym for "Crucial Objectives and Metrics to Plan for Actionable Student Success."

TCAPS has been operating without a strategic plan for several years.

TCAPS hired Northwest Education Services, the local Intermediate School District, for $14,000 as a consultant in the process. North Ed facilitated focus groups and surveys to collect data on community input and helped TCAPS administrators, staff and trustees to organize their ideas for the district into the plan and then led TCAPS trustees and staff through the process of developing the strategic plan.

During the planning meetings, TCAPS trustees and staff discussed the data and how they should inform the district's goals, mission, values and vision. The final result listed a mission, vision and value statement for the district as well as 12 goals that focus on multiple areas related to the school environment and services, many of which the school district's trustees have recently discussed at length and some of which they have already acted on.

In coming weeks, TCAPS administration will come together to split up the listed goals into three groups to be focused on in different years of the strategic plan's tenure, Superintendent John VanWagoner said.

VanWagoner said they'll try to figure out what is doable and when, what they can get started on right away and what needs more resources.

School safety will be a clear goal of Year One, as it's something they're already working on, the superintendent noted.

In July, TCAPS hired security consultants to assess the school district's buildings in the fall and also has received some funding from the state to work on the district's building infrastructure.

Alongside school security, mental health is another focus of the district's goals. However, there is still a struggle to find people to hire in mental health positions, so district officials will have to come up with creative solutions for that, board President Scott Newman-Bale said.

TCAPS is currently seeking a mental health professional and struggling to fill that position, he said.

In relation to mental health and school safety, on the goals list the district would explore the option of working on a Regional Enhancement millage, which is an ISD-wide millage that would allow the school district to use millage dollars to cover ongoing expenses, such as salaries for new security or mental health positions. If TCAPS were to pass its own millage, the district could not use the funds for ongoing expenses.

Other goals focus on working with the community and working on relationships with other education institutions in the area. Part of working with the community is also figuring out how to provide individuals with skill trades to the community, Newman-Bale said.

"How can we provide the best students for the community for the jobs that they need?" Newman-Bale said.

The strategic plan as written also may help the board return to previous efforts.

TCAPS's Social Equity Task Force was dissolved about a year ago after a group of parents questioned its purpose while the board's trustees were revising a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion resolution that the task force drafted. Since then, some members of the community, including former members of the task force, have been hoping that the task force would be reinstated.

Newman-Bale said that having the strategic plan means that the board will be better able to shape an outline of what the task force should do and what its goals should be. One of the goals in the strategic plan focuses on "preventing and addressing harassment and bullying to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students." Newman-Bale said that would likely align with a future task force's mission.

Having this as part of the strategic plan also makes it clearer why an entity like the task force would exist, as it would align with one of the district's stated goals.

"I think most people cannot say that they don't want every student to go to class feeling welcomed," Newman-Bale said. "It is meant to be a broad statement, not specific to any situation."

After about a year of this process, Newman-Bale said he's glad that the strategic plan is finished. He emphasized that the outcome was truly community-driven.

"I think this is one of the most critical things the board's going to do. Everything else we do is based off of this," Newman-Bale said. "I think it's a great process to really think about things in a different way, a more structured way. It does feel really good."

VanWagoner said he's happy with how the plan turned out and he's thankful for North Ed's guidance.

"We're excited to really do that work," VanWagoner said. "It affirmed a lot of things that we've already had planned and then gives us some things to definitely think about."

The strategic planning surveys were sent out in the winter and nearly 3,000 individuals responded. As previously reported, the results showed high percentages of students feeling welcome at school and appreciation for extracurriculars while staff satisfaction with wages and students' sense of safety at school trended lower.

In documents obtained by the Record-Eagle via Freedom of Information Act requests, verbatim comments from the surveys show some concerns over large class sizes at TCAPS and appreciation for the school district's extensive extracurricular and academic opportunities. The verbatim comments also included high praise for TCAPS teachers and staff.

Requests for more mental health supports, more "real-world and hands-on" classes, more support for students struggling academically and encouragement for more parental and community engagement were included in verbatim comments to the survey as well.