Phenix City Schools superintendent Randy Wilkes recalled hearing a few folks around town gush about how impressed they are that K-12 students in their school system are doing “stem cell” research.
“Well, no,” he said with a laugh. “We do STEM, but we don’t do stem cell research.”
Wilkes welcomes the excitement about the school system’s direction, but he wants that direction to be clear. So ensuring citizens understand STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math — not the type of cell used in biomedical research — is an example of a disconnect he intends to fix.
“In the absence of information, there will be misinformation,” he told the Ledger-Enquirer in an interview, “and we want to negate that.”
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Wilkes hopes that will be among the benefits of the two forums Phenix City Schools will conduct this week to gather input from the community as the system develops its new strategic plan.
The first forum will be Tuesday in the South Girard School cafeteria, 521 Fontaine Road. The second forum will be Thursday in the Lakewood Elementary School cafeteria, 24 Explorer Drive. Both forums are scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m.
The school system’s current strategic plan was implemented four years ago, said Wilkes, whom the Phenix City Board of Education hired in June 2014 from Crenshaw County.
“The focus then was in general terms, the involvement of the community, some focus on graduation rate,” he said. “Our new focus has been workforce development, preparing students for college and/or careers, and of course all the implementation of STEM-type courses.”
The goal is to complete the new strategic plan by the end of December and to bring it to the board in January for approval, Wilkes said.
“The board has a huge role in this whole process,” he said. “There needs to be ownership of this. … We’re trying to take into consideration everybody’s thoughts, everybody’s opinions and everybody’s goals.”
To that end, the school system has surveyed students, parents, teachers, classified employees and administrators.
“We’ve got a huge amount of data to utilize,” Wilkes said. “The one group we don’t have is the community stakeholders, so this is the last piece before we get to our committees. We’ll have committees looking at seven different quality indicators.”
Those indicators are: clear direction, healthy culture, high expectations, impact of instruction, resource management, efficacy of engagement and implementation capacity.
At the forums, Wilkes will give “food for thought” about each indicator. Then participants will discuss each indicator while seated in groups at tables with a facilitator and note-taker from the school system.
“We’ll look at strengths, look at weaknesses, look at opportunities we have and make adjustments,” he said.
Asked why the school system is conducting forums instead of a survey to gather community input, Wilkes said, “Face-to-face, in my opinion, there needs to be that relationship and that rapport. We want to be accessible. We can go back and do that (a survey), … but you get some automatic feedback and hear a very broad-brush, elevator speech about what Phenix City Schools is attempting to do and what we have done.”
Questions planned for participants to answer at the forums include:
▪ What skills, traits, characteristics, work ethic, etc. should students demonstrate/possess as graduates of Phenix City Schools?
▪ What is the community willing to do to help Phenix City Schools develop these skills, traits, characteristics, work ethic etc. in students?
Although a strategic plan is a requirement for accreditation, and school system’s next review from AdvancEd is approximately 1½ years away, Wilkes emphasized, “I don’t want the thought to be that this is something we’re doing one time just to go through accreditation. This needs to be a work in progress. We will develop goals and objectives that will be numeric, that will be quantified, to show improvement in various areas.”
The current strategic plan has “nothing relative to incremental growth,” Wilkes said. “If you’ve got deficiencies in an area, if you’ve got a huge achievement gap, what’s your plan to narrow that? So I think it’s imperative that we have the data, and this is part of that so we can develop a plan.”
Wilkes encourages Phenix City residents to read information posted on the school system’s website before they attend one of the forums.
“Everybody’s invited,” Wilkes said. “… I’m interested to hear their input, their take on things.”