This past week senior leadership and staff of the Hartford Public Schools – and key community partners – accepted the Superintendent’s invitation to discuss how to more efficiently and effectively implement Hartford’s Strategic Operating Plan, set forth in the fall of 2015. We learned a lot at this meeting.
The session looked back to document and celebrate progress, but also identify priority work and create a roadmap for the next three years.
The recurring theme we heard? Strong (and Lean) Management Needed Now.
That’s human capital management, financial management, project management and consistent implementation. And it means providing support where needed, but also getting out of the way and allowing school leaders to do what they do best.
We sensed a notion among education leaders in the room – both those in central office and those leading schools – that, even despite drastic improvements over the past three years, the operational side of the school district is in desperate need of attention. There is still no comprehensive answer to the question: What is the District plan for reaching organizational and operational excellence for all students?
The truth is that almost all school district strategic operating plans around the nation stop far short of actually changing the way the district operates. They more so set goals and define strategies to achieve them. See the past one, two, and three strategic plans for HPS. Note all the unmet goals. How can focus less on setting goals, and more on making the changes necessary to reach them.
Having desired results set down on paper means nothing if they cannot be implemented with fidelity, with consistency, with an ability to discern what works from what does not, and with the right resources and talent in place. That’s been Hartford’s problem. As the session pointed out, we don’t yet know “how to operationalize equity.”
The Bottom Line
Last week’s dialogue on the HPS strategic operating plan was a refreshing reminder that those who work in central office and on the ground in schools share the same view as those in the community. They don’t want to pretend they have the resources to accomplish everything they need to. And they want change – transformative change. Both residents and educators in Hartford are tired of pretending that just because we proclaim things like, “every single student in Hartford will get what they need,” that it’s actually going to happen. The fact is: Our system continues to be designed to get the results it gets.
Year in and year out, despite innovations and some powerful new strategies, we are still essentially driving the same car we drove five years ago.
Sure we can add a slightly better set of drivers, slightly better tires, and be working with a much better GPS (in the form of the strategic plan), but we are essentially driving the same car – one that could not get us to our destination before, yet we expect it to somehow get us there now.
With the cascading State, City, and District financial constraints becoming a permanent reality, a restructured school district and central office must be like a new car that can take half as much fuel and go ten times as far towards closing the achievement gap.