Longwood teaches school board

Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board directors got a lesson on the importance of strategic planning from the executive director of Longwood Gardens.

Paul Redman and Marnie Conley, Longwood’s director of marketing, addressed the school board during its Oct. 19 work session to explain how strategic planning helped Longwood in its goal to improve an already excellent system. They came at the request of School Superintendent John Sanville.

Sanville and Director Bob Sage have discussed the idea of a strategic plan with the board several times, and Sanville said Monday that before moving forward with the process, he wanted to bring in people who have experience in developing strategic plans.

“The way we’ve done things in the past has been a year-to-year process where the board looks to approve goals…based on a snapshot in time,” Sanville said.

But he added that developing a strategic plan that covers a course of years would enable the district to perform better. In his research, he looked at other districts and even went outside the field of education.

“I looked to a world-class organization, Longwood Gardens, and noted that Longwood has recently gone through a strategic planning process…I reached out and contacted Paul Redman, and he said he’d be glad to talk about the process,” Sanville said.

Redman said he strongly believes in the value of strategic planning, but also stressed that everyone in the organization must share the vision that’s developed. However, there’s only one place where a successful plan can begin.

”The key to success starts at the top. You have to live and breathe this. It’s not something you can delegate,” Redman said.

He said the success Longwood has achieved, all the positive press it gets and the increased number of visitors, is a result of everyone in the organization understanding and being on board with the vision and aim developed in the plan.

“All the great things you’re reading about us in the newspaper, all the great things we’re accomplishing, they all go directly back to our strategic plan,” he said.

The first plan was a five-year plan, he said, and Longwood is now developing a second five-year plan.

He told the board that developing plans can cost as little as $50,000 or up to $2 million. Redman also stressed the importance of hiring good solid professional consultants to do the work.

The reason for developing the initial plan, he said, was that when he came to Longwood nine years ago, he recognized that regardless of how well Longwood had been doing, the world was changing and that a plan was need to meet those changes.

He said a comprehensive strategic plan is the best way to keep your finger on the pulse of the community.

For that reason, the plan must be adaptable and focus on the long term, the big picture, not the details.

“It’s not about the to-do list, it’s about the big idea,” he said.

During a brief question-and-answer session with the board, U-CF President Vic Dupuis broached the subject of outside consultants, and Redman said doing so is crucial to getting good results.

“I think that is absolutely critical to the process because it brings in unbiased opinion. The most valuable tool in the planning process is the external outreach to get the information about perceptions,” Redman added.

That unbiased opinion would help the organization identify key issues that need to be addressed to determine long-range solutions, he said.

At the end of the segment, Sanville said he and Sage have already spoken with some consultants and would continue with that, and then have more information for the rest of the board in November.

Other business

  • During a public comment period, several parents expressed concerns about the size of third-grade classes at Hillendale Elementary School. Class size is up to 26 pupils in the two third-grade classes there.

The parents acknowledge that the district can’t create a third class at this time, but want a third language arts teacher just as there is now a third math teacher.

They also want the district to re-examine the criteria used to determine the class size.

Director Mike Rock, an economics professor at Bryn Mawr, responded by saying he understands the need for a smaller class size. In his own experience, he said, he can get more teaching done in a class of 13 students than in a class of 30.

Sanville said he would consult with Hillendale Principal Steve Dissinger and with John Nolen, the director of curriculum and instruction, and then get back to the parents.

  • The board will begin the process of replacing Keith Knauss on the board beginning with its Oct. 26 meeting, Sanville said. It will advertise for a replacement and keep the application process open until Nov. 6. Interviews will begin Nov. 9, and a vote is scheduled for Nov. 16.

He added that Knauss, who announced his resignation on Oct. 9, would be present when the board officially accepts his resignation.

Dupuis jokingly said that night is close to Mischief Night and board members should prepare accordingly.

About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.



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