Members of the public can attend future meetings at Shawnee High School on Nov. 1, Seneca High School on Nov. 19 and Lenape High School on Dec. 5.
By Zane Clark
Members of the public filled the cafeteria at Cherokee High School this week to share their thoughts on the current state, and more importantly, the future of the Lenape Regional High School District.
This week’s meeting marked the first in a series of four gatherings where district officials have invited members of the public to share input for the creation of a new, five-year strategic plan district administrators can use to guide the district into the future.
The format had attendees break into groups of about six to 10 people, with groups consisting of a varied mix of students, teachers, administrators, parents and other members of the public.
Then, within those groups, participants worked together in timed sessions throughout the night to discuss various aspects of the district and its future.
First, groups were tasked with identifying the current strengths and challenges for the district.
Then, groups were asked to determine a vision of the future for the district and how the district could achieve the vision by 2023.
Finally, groups were asked to “narrow the focus” by articulating the skills and values students should have to properly prepare them for life beyond high school upon leaving the district.
Within the format, members of the community made their feelings known throughout the night regarding a wide variety of issues.
Some shared concerns about recent cuts to the district’s state aid funding, others wanted to celebrate the sense of community within the schools, some wanted to brainstorm methods for expanding class offerings and others wanted to do more to fund extracurricular activities.
As individuals and groups shared their thoughts, the groups wrote their ideas down on large sheets of paper, while speakers for each group read their ideas aloud to the room at large.
According to Jessie Adams Jr. of the New Jersey School Boards Association, who was on hand to help proctor the meeting, the community input sessions are some of the “most important” pieces in the strategic planning process.
“It’s an opportunity to collect data. It’s a data-gathering exercise. We want to know what you think … your voices are the most important parts of the process,” Adams said as he spoke to the crowd.
After the four public strategic planning meetings have concluded, Adams said district officials would also conduct further interviews and community surveys to gather additional input.
Afterward, Adams said the data would be set before a team of professionals and community stakeholders to find common themes and areas district officials should focus on to move the district ahead in the next five years.
Adams said those objectives would ultimately be placed before the Lenape Regional High School District Board of Education, which would then hopefully approve the goals so Superintendent Carol Birnbohm and her staff could create an action plan.
Birnbohm was also on hand for the meeting, and in comments to the crowd, she tied the strategic planning process into this year’s district theme of “better together.”
“I can’t think of anything else other than the strategic planning process which really embodies the staff and the community and students in working toward a common goal,” Birnbohm said.
Birnbohm also noted it was 10 years ago when the district last created a long-term strategic plan, as the trend in education at the time was to create longer-ranged plans when undergoing strategic planning.
Since then, however, Birnbohm said the field of education succumbs to changes much faster than before due to rapid changes in other areas such as technology, careers and higher education, hence why the current plan the district hopes to craft will outline just the next five years.
“You know what you like about your school right now. That’s the present,” Birnbohm said. “So we’re going to recognize those things, but you also probably have ideas of where you want to go in the future. So we’re looking for that balance.”
For those who couldn’t attend this week’s meeting at Cherokee, the district will hold similar forums at the district’s remaining three high schools in the coming weeks.
Interested members of the public are invited to attend meetings at Shawnee High School on Nov. 1, Seneca High School on Nov. 19 and Lenape High School on Dec. 5.
To RSVP for a future meeting, email email@example.com.
More information about the meetings and the strategic planning process is also available at www.lrhsd.org/bettertogether.