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Homewood schools take long view with five-year plan

Homewood District 153 is preparing a path to the future through a new five-year strategic plan.
The process began this school year with more than 400 responses to a survey, answered primarily by parents. 
  • 85 percent believed children in the district are receiving a good education for their tax dollars
  • Mandated classes in math, English and science were considered most important. with fine arts and foreign language in second place
  • 87 percent agree the buildings are well-maintained
  • 76 percent believe the district is meeting students’ academic needs
  • 81 percent say instruction is rigorous and engaging
  • Quality staff and quality curriculum were ranked as the district’s greatest strengths
With those findings in hand, about 50 volunteers came together over two days in November to work on six specific target areas: finance, facilities, curriculum/assessment/outcomes, social and emotional wellbeing, human resources and community and public relations.  For each specific topic, the volunteers developed two major action plans. 
“We had a good cross section of our school community participating in the strategic planning process. There was a lot of serious discussions about ways we can continue to improve and meet the needs of all students,” said Shelly Marks, District 153 board president.
One of the goals includes “mitigating the structural deficit.” The school board twice since 2011 has asked voters to raise their property taxes to keep the district out of red ink.  Superintendent Dale Mitchell said while the budget deficit is an important goal, he believes it should be considered equal to the other five goals.
Looking at facilities needs is going to be crucial in the future. The district will likely be doing an assessment soon because space at Willow and Churchill Schools is “very tight,” Mitchell said. 
This year Willow School has the largest kindergarten class in 15 years. Second, third and fourth grade enrollments also have spiked up, he added.
James Hart School has some breathing room by using space that previously accommodated Millennium School. The district closed Millennium in 2016.
Technology needs are ongoing, Mitchell said. Teachers were surveyed in spring 2017 and asked for more devices for students.
“Making certain teachers have the resources and the space they need helps obviously to improve the culture and working together as a team,” the superintendent explained. 
He meets quarterly with a district leadership team to share information about the district and hear from staff “to keep communications open.”
Mitchell will retire in June 2021. Because this five-year plan extends through 2023, he believes it “helps set the stage for the next few years, and allows the new superintendent to come in and have a little bit of a plan and take it from there.”

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