Parents, community leaders and businesses soon will have a chance to weigh in on the future of the Mesa Unified School District. The governing board voted this week to hire an outside group to help the nearly 70,000-student district focus on its future with a strategic plan designed to look at the district's educational offerings, fiscal focus, facilities and more.
Much has changed since 2002, the last time the district developed a strategic plan. Jobs have been lost around the Valley, the state is facing a potential billion-dollar deficit, enrollment is declining and achievement tests have reached a new level with federal guidelines.
"All of those things infiltrate the system. We need to be able to chart the path we need to take in front of all these new challenges," associate superintendent Michael Cowan said Friday.
Add to the changes the fact three new board members will be elected Tuesday and a new superintendent will be in place by mid-2009. Debra Duvall announced she will retire in June.
One difference between this strategic plan and the last is the call for community input, Cowan said. The public will be able to offer its ideas on the Mesa district's strengths and areas of improvement through an electronic survey that will ask for recommendations for the future.
The district also plans to form input groups consisting of key community leaders. The public will be invited to those open meetings. In addition, there will be a strategic planning committee.
North Carolina-based Partnerships for Excellence has been hired to lead the charge. The group will be paid $121,321 the first year to conduct the research, collect the data and run the community meetings. The costs will go down in subsequent years, Cowan said.
In the next few weeks, Cowan will meet with Partnerships for Excellence to establish a calendar of meetings and deadlines.
Board member Michael Hughes, in his fourth term, is excited about the community input and what the plan will bring.
"The community piece is critical," Hughes said. "With all the competition out there, with all of the different types of choices parents have, we've got to pull them in. We've got to know what parents and the community want the public school system to be."
Board member David Lane, in the middle of his first term on the board, said with the district's diversity and future challenges, this plan couldn't come at a better time.
"We have such a huge and diverse district and I'm hoping we can have a little road map on how to deal with some of the issues we're faced with and new issues that may come up in the foreseeable future," Lane said.
There's not only the economic challenge to grapple with, Lane said, but the changing nature of the work force. The district may find it needs to introduce students to growing career areas, Lane said.
"The tough thing about that is quite a few of these kids are in high school today and within 20 years will be in jobs we haven't even heard of. So we need to make sure they have the foundation they need to move into those," he said. "That's my concern. It's changing rapidly, so we have to look a little further out to get where we need to be than maybe a smaller district or single school charter can do."