VUSD board commits to developing strategic plan

Visalia Unified approves contract with consulting firm to develop a strategic plan for the 2023-24 school year and beyond

VISALIA – Visalia Unified’s list of programs, policies, procedures and pilot projects to achieve student success is impressive but it might also be excessive if they aren’t all built on the same principles with the same overall goals.

In order to help the district focus its efforts to align needed programs and redirect funding for ineffective programs, the Visalia Unified School District’s (VUSD) board unanimously approved a contract with Thru Consultancy, LLC, to develop a multi-year strategic plan for the district.

During his presentation to the board at its Dec. 13 meeting, Superintendent Kirk Shrum compared the district’s efforts to arrows going off in different directions to reach their goals. While each arrow has a self-contained goal and direction, not all of the programs are in alignment with the overall direction of the district. A strategic plan sets that overall direction and then redirects all of the arrows into a single direction, or a group of smaller arrows lining up to make a larger arrow.

“We have a lot of plans, a lot of well intentioned activities in our district … all of these things cost a lot of money and we spend a lot of money on a lot of things going in a lot of different directions,” Shrum said. “The point of a strategic plan is to align these things, increase collective impact … and create a roadmap that will guide us for the next five years.”

Newly selected Board President Walta Gamoian said the need for the district to develop a strategic plan was evident from public comments obtained from district parents and community members during its search for a new superintendent earlier this year.

“Our community identified the need for a mission, vision, and goals as one of the top areas of focus during our superintendent search survey,” Gamoian said.

The development of the strategic plan will span seven months starting in January 2023. The process for developing the plan includes: stakeholder engagement in January; data review and analysis in February; reporting findings and feedback in March; creating vision and goals in April; designing initiatives in May; developing the roadmap in June; and establishing monitoring and governance processes in July.

“Our community’s voice matters.  The reason why we chose Thru was because their design process is founded in stakeholder engagement, and they have experience as practitioners in medium to large districts,” Shrum said. “This is the first time in many years that Visalia Unified will operate with a high level of clarity through our strategic plan.”

Shrum said the plan will provide a clear direction for the district, set goals and benchmarks for implementing the plan, provide clearer communications with the community, and delineate who is in charge of specific aspects of the plan and the criteria for making those decisions. Thru Consulting will provide monthly leadership coaching sessions for the board, monthly workshops for staff, public calendars for the community to track the progress, and in-depth research of VUSD data.

The cost of the contract to develop the strategic plan is $117,500, including approximately $100,000 to develop the strategic plan and an additional $17,500 to cover travel expenses for consulting staff. Newly elected trustee Paul Belt likened the need for a consulting plan to having a personal trainer at a fitness center versus a home gym in your garage. He said many people think they can do a better job of fitness at home so they spend a lot of money to buy equipment that eventually is ineffective at reaching their goals and just ends up gathering dust. By hiring a personal trainer, those same people will save themselves the expense of a home gym and learn how to meet their goals efficiently, saving them unneeded equipment in the future as well.

“At first I balked at $117,000 … I didn’t pay that for my first house,” Belt said. “It makes sense that, not only will we know where we are going but save money in the process and save money in the future.”

Thru Consultancy was founded in 2020 to focus specifically on strategic planning for school districts. Their team consists of consultants and subject matter experts to provide their clients with relevant and actionable advice.

They have worked with a variety of school districts from throughout the nation including:  New York City Department of Education; Los Angeles Unified School District; Houston Independent School District; and Miami-Dade County Public Schools to name a few.  Dr. Robert Avossa is the Project Executive, along with the Thru team, will help facilitate the development of the strategic plan.

“We have personal experience walking school hallways and advising the leaders of over 700 school districts,” the firm stated in its proposal to VUSD. “Over the years, we have learned a lot about what works, and more importantly, what does not.”

The district will provide regular updates to the community on the progress of the strategic plan. Please visit www.vusd.org for updated information beginning in January 2023.

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