Fort Smith schools chief to try new strategy
FORT SMITH — After the 30-year run of Superintendent Benny Gooden, his successor thinks it is time to refocus and reflect on the Fort Smith School District’s direction.
Early next month, the process to draw up a strategic plan that will guide the district for the next five years will begin. It will take about six months to create the plan and could involve as many as 100 members of the community.
“We’ve had strong and steady leadership for about 30 years,” Superintendent Doug Brubaker said. “It’s a good opportunity to take a fresh look at everything that we do.”
Brubaker took over as superintendent in late January after Gooden retired from the position in April 2016. Brubaker pledged to the Fort Smith School Board during his transition that he would initiate the strategic plan.
After taking on the new job, Brubaker said, he went to each school and visited around the community and listened to people’s comments and ideas. The plan provides a process for focusing on the ideas for which there is the most consensus, he said.
The strategic plan process will start with the selection of an advisory committee composed of about 25 members of the community, parents, educators, business people, community leaders and others, Brubaker said.
Cambridge Strategic Services of Charlottesville, Va., which the School Board hired in May, will guide the district
through the process as it has for more than 1,000 school districts around the country, Executive Director Kevin Castner said.
The company has been successful, he said, because instead of the school board and superintendent making the planning decisions, Cambridge has the community take charge of the planning.
“That is the group that is going to develop the plan,” Castner said. “It’s not a topdown plan.”
By having citizens create the plan, he said, it creates a sense of ownership among stakeholders, a partnership and trust within the district.
Brubaker said the advisory committee will decide on five to seven goals and objectives. Action teams of 12-15 members will work out the strategies needed to accomplish the goals, how long it will take to implement them and determine the resources that will be needed.
He said he didn’t know on what issues the committee would put their focus. That would be up to the committee.
Throughout his listening tour, Brubaker said recurring topics of interest or concern in the community included providing students with a safe and secure learning environment and preparing students to meet the demands for college or to move into a career after high school.
The strategic plan could have an effect on the district’s infrastructure needs, Brubaker said. Based on strategies chosen, the plan would have to determine what the needs would be to accomplish them, whether the district could fulfill those needs and, if not, what it would take to provide for them.
“If we made a change, we would just want to make sure we had the buildings that would allow us to accomplish that,” he said.
A draft schedule proposes that the planning process begin Aug. 3 with an introduction by Castner during a Partners in Education conference, and a public introduction later in the day.
People interested in serving on the advisory committee would be sought and chosen and would meet, guided by a Cambridge staff member, for a three-day planning session in late August to develop a draft plan.
The action teams would be selected in September and work through November fleshing out the goals and objectives. The teams would submit reports to the strategic plan team, which would finalize the plan in December.
It would be turned over to the School Board and Brubaker for final approval in December or January. According to the proposed schedule, Brubaker would be tasked with creating the timeline for the plan’s implementation over five years and determine if tax increases would have to be sought.