Mesa Public Schools

“I think it’s going to make a huge difference in student learning and  how our buildings are used,”

With today’s rapidly-changing workforce, such as fewer manufacturing jobs and more collaborative working environments, Mesa Public Schools is gearing up to unveil a new plan that will ensure its graduates are ready for a new job market. 

The three-year strategic plan will characterize the district’s “portrait of a graduate” and desired “learning outcomes” in order to prepare students for college, careers and the community. 

It will also outline the necessary steps the district can take to get them there.  

“The portrait of a graduate will be the bulk of the plan, which will define the knowledge, skills and dispositions that a graduate needs to be ready,” said MPS Chief Strategy and Information Officer Helen Hollands. “The full strategic plan will include the strategies, tactics, goals and measures we will use.” 

According to Forbes.com, multiple industries are shifting to more managerial and strategic roles in the wake of increased automation, which has contributed to at least an 85 percent loss of manufacturing jobs. 

Upcoming graduates can also expect to see changes in standard working conditions. 

The business magazine claims that 43 percent of employed Americans now spend at least part of their time working from home and have more flexible schedules. 

“’Collaboration’ is another big one that we hear all the time,” said Hollands. “We’re finding that we need to make sure schools are providing those opportunities now.” 

Noting that the number of jobs requiring collaboration “now is increasing and the number of jobs that don’t is decreasing,” Hollands said, “The ability for our young adults to gain those skills is different, so we have to change.” 

The framework for the strategic plan dates back to November 2018, when the district awarded a contract to computer data storage company Dell EMC to facilitate the process with Advanced Learning Partnerships.

In February of this year, Advanced Learning Partnerships consultant John Ross assessed the “current state of learning” in the district. 

Ross visited 13 schools and 66 classrooms in five days to collect data, interviewing district administrators, governing board members, site leaders, teachers and students. 

The assessment included eight findings, one of which claimed that MPS students are not genuinely engaged in their classrooms. 

“Students in schools across the district are polite, quiet and respectful,” said Ross. “But engagement is more likely to be described as strategic or ritual compliance, rather than authentic engagement in learning.” 

It also found that teachers are not using their digital resources to their full advantage, most likely because they don’t know how. 

Ross expressed concern that teachers are not receiving enough professional development to use those tools properly, and that students are not given sufficient opportunities to incorporate technology into each lesson. 

“I just don’t see that the technology resources you’ve purchased so far have made a significant impact on practice,” he told the school board. 

On the other hand, the consultant found that district schools are showing progress in addressing the social-emotional well-being of its students.

The district is currently homing in on how it views mental health, including ideas for support dogs, extra counselors and first aid and suicide prevention training. 

In April, a 30-member “strategic planning steering committee” was formed, comprising administrators and other staffers, governing board members, teachers, community members, parents and students.

“They really serve as a recommending committee to the Board and are carrying a very large workload as far as synthesizing all of the information that we have gathered,” said Hollands. “They have made quite a commitment.” 

Over 180 educators and community members met in spring to discuss a variety of topics, including life readiness, safety and well being, technology enablement, social emotional learning and collaborative teams.

MPS then surveyed employees, students and community members to gather even more feedback. 

“The goal of the surveys is to kind of do a temperature check to see how well Mesa Public Schools is currently servicing students, and if the district communicates well with citizen community members,” Hollands added. “We want to get an idea of where we are doing well already, and where we have to improve.” 

More than 840 students, 670 staff members and 1,600 community members were surveyed. 

In June, the district created four overarching work group recommendations: make a common language for key practices; create a structure for implementing district priorities; “radiate authenticity;” and establish a culture of continuous learning.

Now it is defining its “portrait of a graduate.” 

“We are seeing consistency in what a large variety of audiences are saying is important [for graduates],” said Hollands. “We are seeing phrases like ‘critical thinking skills,’ ‘communication skills,’ ‘creativity’ and ‘resilience.’’’

Once the strategic plan is more fleshed out, the process for a complementary master plan can kick in. 

The district’s master plan, which will coincide with the strategic plan, will home in on the district’s buildings and facilities, according to Holly Williams, the district’s executive director of master planning and bond projects. 

“The idea behind a master plan is that we will look at the strategic plan — once we determine what a portrait of a graduate is — and then try to align our facilities to meet the needs of whatever that is,” Williams said, adding:

“For example, let’s say the strategic plan says we need to prepare students to work in a place that is flexible and based on decision making. We then want to look at a classroom and see if it has the ability to have flexible seating or a garage door that can expand out into the hallways so that people can group together.” 

Using money from the new bond, Mesa Public Schools will analyze all the facilities and complete a suitability review before creating a plan for repairs, renovations and replacements. 

Williams said she is hopeful about the outcome. 

“I think it’s going to make a huge difference in student learning and  how our buildings are used,” she said.  

MPS hopes to complete a first draft of the strategic plan by the end of August. 

The full-fledged plan is expected to launch in January. 

“If you see a visioning session or want to give your input or see something that you can go to, please go” said Hollands. “We want the community to be involved — our goal is that when we unveil this plan, everybody says ‘It’s here’ — not, ‘What is this?’”

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