BRIDGEWATER, NJ - After months of surveys, focus groups and meetings, Superintendent of Schools Russell Lazovick presented to the board of education the fruits of labor from the strategic planning committee regarding a new mission and vision for the district.
“This was a cohesive strategic plan that was district wide to pull everyone together,” he said. “The purpose is to create a foundational language that will support the efficient improvement of all aspects of our district.”
Lazovick said they are creating a tool that lays out what the district wants to become in the future, and how they can achieve those goals.
“We want to be lifelong learners, and can always get better,” he said. “We want to make sure we are constantly moving in the right direction.”
Now that the strategic planning committee’s initial work is done, the board of education will draft goals to meet the mission and vision at the June 13 board retreat, followed by an expected approval of the new plan June 27 and an implementation beginning in September.
Lazovick said they issued initial surveys in February, with close to 2,000 responses from students, staff and community members. From there, he said, they held nine focus group sessions with more than 250 people.
For the steering committee, the district fielded about 300 applications to be part, and narrowed it down to 60 people, who met for the first time in December, and then held seven meetings in April and May to finalize the mission.
Lazovick said the strategic plan designed by the committee includes five major components: the mission of why the district exists; the values the district stands for; the vision of what the district is not doing but should be; strategies and delimiters to control actions; and goals for specific outcomes the district wants to achieve.
As for the mission statement designed by the committee, Lazovick said it was designed to speak to the heart of what the district is doing for the students.
“The goal is to find our heart,” he said. “It’s a tool that we can use to inspire action.”
The mission statement reads: “We will teach them One and All/Young to Old and Big to Small/Inspire, engage and educate/Improve our world and make it great/Challenge all to grow, exceed/So one day they will take the lead.”
The committee’s values, Lazovick said, are daunting, but achievable.
“If you take each of these as a value set, it is something that is incredibly daunting to live up to,” he said. “But the one thing we talked about is that we are not alone. Together, we can live up to the set of values.”
Those values include valuing creative thinkers who ask questions and take risks, while also valuing adaptable citizens and responsible collaborators. According to the committee, it is also about valuing lifelong learners and enterprising individuals who work to enrich the world around them.
As for the vision, Lazovick said, the goal was to determine what the district would like if it maximized its potential, as well as investigating what the district is not doing.
The vision the committee created is to engage all stakeholders through clear and effective two-way communication to provide comprehensive, innovative, sustainable, research-based programs to leverage technology and address the needs of all students.
When it came to strategies, Lazovick said, the goal was to come up with things the district wants to do to succeed, but is currently not doing.
These strategies include recruiting and retaining quality staff; ensuring all voices are heard through clear communication; providing safe environments for students; providing programs to empower students and staff; regularly celebrating the achievements of the students; and working to ensure the consistency of processes and programs.
The delimiters, Lazovick said, are things that are currently in the district’s culture, but that impede the goals and should be stopped.
In the future, Lazovick said, the goals will be to not disregard professional learning needs of the staff; not ignore problems; not waste valuable resources; not act complacently regarding safety and security; not implement new initiatives without professional development; not grow certain programs while ignoring others; and not raise issues without offering solutions.
“This was a long conversation that everyone can get behind for the strategies,” he said.
Lazovick asked a number of members of the committee to speak about the experience of being part of it, and they talked about the value they found in it and how proud they were to be part.
“It would be easy for the board to look at all this and see the mission as accomplished,” said parent Steve Singer. “The process is expected to guide future decisions in the district and keep us on a path to achieve our vision. The strategic plan holds each of us accountable to those ideals.”
Parent, and teacher in the district, Tamara Billy said she was always proud to say she was a product of Bridgewater, and to now be a teacher here while raising her own kids makes her just as proud.
“The vision of these people was very inspiring, and it seemed to bring back an important energy that was missing,” she said of being on the committee.
Adamsville Primary School principal James Singagliese, who served on the committee, said the district can continually grow and improve as long as it looks to invest in all the people.
“We are currently a really good school district, and I feel we can be a great one,” he said.
For special education supervisor Lisa Ferreira, it was validating to see how many stakeholders in the community just want to do what is best for the kids.
“We all arrived at the same conclusion that we want our students to reach their full potential,” she said. “There is a reason why Bridgewater-Raritan’s reputation precedes us, and we can coalesce around the idea of being the best version of ourselves.”
Parent Rachel Berg said the committee was a good mix of administrators, teachers, board of education members and parents. She said being part of the committee was about having a significant impact on the children’s lives, while also getting to know the stakeholders in the district.
And Mayor Dan Hayes echoed that all the work the committee did was about maintaining Bridgewater-Raritan as an exemplary community.
“I am an elected official who knows that if we are to remain an exemplary community, our education must be first rate,” he said. “As an educator myself, I am proud of the product we created.”
“The process was thorough and inclusive, and it drove to a database consensus on values, mission and more,” he added.
Hillside Intermediate teacher Katrina Macht said the process was not about resting on what the district has accomplished in the past, but about pursuing fresh opportunities to get the district where it needs to be for the future.
“I have worked in the district for more than 25 years, and to be part of such a process was one of the most exhilarating experiences I have ever had,” she said. “It challenged my intellect in ways that have rarely occurred.”
“It has been an opportunity for me to contribute to the district’s strategic plan, but also to reexamine my own practices as a teacher,” she added.
Board member Ann Marie Mead, who served on the committee, said she was concerned people would come into the steering committee with individual agendas, but that was not the case.
“We thought and we worked and we had fun and we delivered,” she said. “I sat in that room and I listened, and I was amazed at what it meant to everyone in that room.”
Lazovick said the next step will be the goals for the plan, to be developed by the board of education June 13, followed by the full plan approval. And, he said, they will look to kick things off in September when everyone returns from vacation.
“Thank you to everyone who was involved in the process,” he said. “I hope you realize this is just the beginning. Now the hard work begins of translating the plan into the district.”