COUNCIL ROCK >> The public is invited to weigh in on the school district’s strategic plan, which is available for view from now through mid-September.
For the better part of a year, the district has been working on the plan, which will chart the district’s future over the next four years.
“This plan is quite robust,” said Superintendent Dr. Robert Fraser. “While this is a four year plan, I would estimate that there is easily seven to eight years worth of work involved in this. It’s probably a bit more robust than I would like and I do not envision us creating a plan again that’s quite this robust.”
The plan focuses on three goal areas - student wellness, redefining student success and school safety and security.
“The epicenter of this plan, the driver of this plan is student wellness,” said Fraser. “Not only is it it’s own goal area, not only is it the first of three, we weave student wellness through redefining student success and we also weave it through school safety and security.”
From a wellness standpoint, Fraser said “we want our kids to be well. We want to make sure we have the right people in place, programs and practices in place to promote, develop, nourish the social and emotional development of our students.”
The reality, said Fraser, is that kids today are dealing with more stress, more anxiety, more depression and even suicidal ideation than ever before. “We have to be responsive to that and we will,” he said.
The Student Wellness area focuses specifically on mental health, social and emotional learning, said Fraser. “We want our students to be mentally healthy. We want them to be emotionally healthy. And we also want them to be physically healthy.”
Under student wellness, there’s an emphasis on nutrition; fitness; tobacco, vaping, drug and alcohol education; and suicide prevention and intervention programming and practices.
“I don’t think anyone likes needing to put something like suicide prevention into our strategic plan, but we have to,” said Fraser, pointing to statistics showing that between 2009 and 2017 rates of depression rose by over 60 percent among those ages 14 to 17 and by 47 percent among those ages 12 and 13 year olds.
Even more alarming, said Fraser, the number of children and teens seen in emergency rooms with suicidal thoughts or having attempted suicide doubled between 2007 and 2015.
“We cannot bury our heads in the sand over this. We will not bury our heads in the sand over this. We will do this work and we will do it well. And we will partner with families, community agencies and together I am sure we can achieve great success,” said Fraser.
Diversity and inclusion is another aspect of student wellness, said Fraser. “We’ve come a long way and yet we have even longer to go in that arena.”
Also under student wellness, Fraser said the district will be studying school start times.
“The research on adolescent sleep and its impact on the brain is fairly convincing and overwhelming,” he said. “That’s not going to be the question before us. It will be one of logistics and financing. We will be doing that work and resulting in a decision about a potential change there as well as potential implementation of a revised high school master schedule” to provide students with added opportunities for them to explore their interests, aspirations and passions.
Redefining Student Success
Under redefining student success, Fraser said as a school district Council Rock has a well-deserved, rich history and a tremendous tradition of academic accomplishments.
“That’s important. That will still be important. And that will always be important,” said Fraser. “What we also want to be important are these more holistic indicators of student success, probably non-academic in nature. How do we know our students are well? How do we determine that? What are the data points? What’s the anecdotal information? We want to embed and build that into our culture. We want to measure that.”
Fraser said there’s a school of thought that by focusing so much on student wellness, it’s going to take away from student success.
“I strongly suggest just the opposite,” said Fraser. “I feel passionate that when you have a student who is feeling stress, depressed and maybe even worse you put that school work in front of them, it’s hard to focus. This is meeting those basic needs first before you’re able to tend to that schoolwork in front of you. If we are successful within that area and we’re alleviating all those issues, all those stumbling blocks, I strongly contend that our students will end up being more successful.”
Fraser said as part of redefining student success, the district will be creating a profile of a graduate by answering the questions, “What is it that we want to be true of every single Council Rock student who graduates? What’s the content knowledge? What is the skill set? What are the dispositions? What are the habits of mind?”
The district also will introduce a new CR Score Card. “Historically it was very academic in nature. Academics will still be there,” said Fraser. “They will still be prominent, but we want to add other measures as well.”
The district also will continue its work with Professional Learning Communities and with STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Math).
In addition, it will focus on developing an ongoing and fiscally responsible technology plan.
“We have a lot of technology in the district,” said Fraser. “We have to have the replacement cycle down. We have to anticipate those costs. While at the same time keeping an eye out for new and emerging technologies both from an infrastructure standpoint and from a student use standpoint.”
The district also plans to enhance and implement a comprehensive assessment system, building off of where the district is today.
School Safety and Security
Fraser calls the final goal - school safety and security - “fairly obvious and tremendously important. Both proactive measures, reactive measures so anyone and everyone - students, parents and anyone else who visits our schools - are always kept safe.”
School safety and security intersects with student wellness when a student is struggling or has been identified as needing help.
“We want to make sure that students and that student’s family has access to school-based mental health resources and community-based resources. How is this different from goal one? This one is about being reactive. We’ve identified a student. Here’s our plan to be responsive to that student. We do it first for the overall well-being of that student and we also do it because we want to make sure that the larger community stays safe as well.”
The district also will be reevaluating its students assistance programs. “We have fantastic ones, but I don’t know if all of our students and parents completely understand them, the purpose and how they work,” said Fraser. “We also want to make sure that they are accessible.”
In addition, the district will continue to take part in ALICE (active shooter response) training with local law enforcement. The staff is taught options for response.
Also, said Fraser, every school’s front entrance has now been secured adding an extra layer of security to the district’s schools. Visitors must now be buzzed in after identifying themselves to the front office via an intercom.
The process in developing the strategic plan began several months ago with a community survey which asked district residents for their vision of the district. The survey’s 1300 responses helped shape a conceptual framework.
“At that point it was one page. Our final plan is 24 pages,” said Fraser.
The conceptual framework was then turned into a survey of the district’s faculty members.
“We had an outstanding response to that 683 response, which is 80 some percent,” said Fraser. “And the best thing about that is there was tremendous agreemen”t by our teachers and other professional staff with what had gone into the conceptual framework. A high level of agreement results typically in hopefully a high level of commitment and dedication to seeing this work through.”
That led to the creation of a 61 member steering committee team, which met twice to develop the framework of the plan. The framework was then converted to an action plan by the administrative cabinet and the steering committee chairs.
Among the 61 members were six students - three from South and three from North. “They brought a maturity, a perspective that we couldn’t get any other way. They were absolutely fantastic.”
Also serving on the core committee were four district parents, two community members, two business representatives, 23 faculty and staff, 20 administrators, and two school board members.
The process was facilitated by Dr. Fraser and JoAnn Perotti of the Bucks County Intermediate Unit.
Copies of the plan are available online and at the district offices at the Chancellor Center during regular business hours. Feedback should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The plan is scheduled for discussion and a formal vote at the school board’s September 19 meeting.