Thursday, January 18, 2018
Education

Strategic plan plays vital role as Hernando schools prioritize spending

BROOKSVILLE — There's something different about the Hernando County School District's latest strategic plan, the all-important planning document that's supposed to provide a road map for the future.

It's not just sitting on a shelf collecting dust.

The document is playing an instrumental role in shaping the creation of next year's budget, the first under new superintendent Lori Romano and the first using a new priority-based budgeting system.

"This is the first time that the strategic plan is used, really," said Eric Williams, the district's director of school improvement. "Aligning what we do to the plan is becoming a way of life."

That's what happened at Tuesday's School Board workshop during an update to the 2012-17 plan, the first since the document was approved last January.

Previous plans had not been updated regularly to determine whether the district was, in fact, meeting its benchmarks. It was a deficiency highlighted in the district's most recent accreditation review.

The current strategic plan consists of 15 focus areas ranging from college and career preparation to school safety. There are 80 objectives that fall under those categories.

In its first year, the school district fell short in reaching many objectives, which are largely set by accountability groups.

The most glaring shortfall: the lack of progress made in closing academic proficiency gaps, Williams said.

The percentage of students making the worst scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test — a 1 or 2 on a scale of 5 — showed little movement between the baseline in 2011-12 and last year's statistics. The percentage of students from low-income families earning the lowest scores decreased slightly. Same for black and Hispanic students.

Williams said the school district needs to do more to close those gaps.

"We need to put our money where our mouth is," he said.

Williams cited the relatively poor performance of these groups of students as a reason why some schools lost points or were demoted a grade level in state school grading.

"As a district, we're not going to be an A until we address this concern with low performance of these traditionally low-performing groups," he said.

The Hernando schools earned a C in the most recent year.

The district is meeting standards in some areas and made progress in others.

One such area: literacy.

During the 2012-13 school year, 95 percent of kindergarteners met the reading standard on the Florida Assessment for Instruction in Reading, above the district's target of 85 percent. First- and second-graders also hit their targets.

Another promising number: 64 percent of students demonstrated proficiency on the Algebra I end-of-course exam, an increase of 8 percentage points.

The strategic plan will be a key tool in Romano's new priority-based budgeting system, where every program will be evaluated.

"The resources need to go to the areas where we're not making the growth," Williams said.

School Board members said they were pleased with the work that had gone into the plan and how it was being used.

"What an undertaking," said board Chairman Gus Guadagnino.

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. Follow him @HernandoTimes on Twitter.

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