In a recent special meeting, the Franklin Lakes School Board, along with experts in education, set a new course to navigate the aftermath of COVID-19, prioritizing strategic planning for the district’s future. This crucial shift comes after a period of inconsistent leadership that has affected the school system’s ability to provide a stable and progressive educational environment.
The board convened with two distinguished guests: John Camigno, an influential voice on education law, and Sara Bellotti, a seasoned administrator, both enlisted to steer the development of a strategic plan for Franklin Lakes. Bellotti notably highlighted the importance of including all stakeholders in the process, particularly students whose unique insights often bring unexpected value.
Addressing the fundamental purpose of public education, Camigno quoted a law student’s response that it “creates a taxable citizenry.” The conversation ignited debate among board members who underscored the role of public education in individual growth and societal benefit, the creation of lifelong learners, and enhancing community competitiveness.
The board emphasized the primary goal of their district to ensure students perform to their best abilities. To achieve this, they engaged in the strategic planning process, comprising six phases that include discerning and defining an engineering team, soliciting stakeholder input, synthesizing the input with the vision and goals of the school board, establishing metrics for action items, and sharing the completed strategic plan with the district leadership, the administration, staff, parents, and the community.
The board recognized the challenge of distilling the vast range of input into a succinct, measurable strategic plan. Still, the process is deemed necessary to align resources and goals effectively, a point of agreement among both the board members and the guest experts.
The board demonstrated keen interest in gauging community opinion through surveys, utilizing platforms like Thought Exchange, which the community is familiar with, to gather data. Previous experiences with such surveys underscored the unpredictability of community response, emphasizing the necessity of follow-up surveys to clarify anomalies.
Several board members highlighted the importance of feasibility and community relevance in all aspects of the strategic plan. There was an agreement that the conversation with the community might not always be positive but is necessary nonetheless. Emphasis was also placed on setting realistic and measurable objectives for aspirational projects, like a potential air conditioning project worth $2.5 million.
There was a shared understanding that improving communication with the community about the plans and processes involved is vital. The low public attendance at some sessions was attributed to the timing or means of communication, not necessarily a lack of interest.
The meeting also included discussions on the board’s internal processes, such as the need for better training for new board members, clearer committee roles, and the importance of setting specific goals for each committee. The president emphasized the need for increased committee accountability, especially in relation to achieving the board’s overall goals.
Furthermore, the board reflected on the need for increased parent engagement, citing the success of previous events like Parent Academy, which helped bridge gaps in parent-teacher communication and foster a stronger sense of community.
The board is now preparing for the upcoming elections and the process of appointing a new member to fill a vacant seat, an issue that has been a topic of considerable debate. The board plans to conduct the interviews in public for transparency and is considering establishing a permanent procedure for future vacancies.