City group embarks on developing 5-year schools strategic plan

NASHUA – School district leaders talked about the need to look forward at a “kickoff” event for the district’s strategic planning process that was held Thursday at Nashua High School South.

“This is a crossroads in education in Nashua,” said Superintendent Christopher Hottel, who introduced district staff members, city employees, politicians and other community members who will take part in the planning process.

In June, the school board voted to hire Future Management Systems of Beverly, Mass., to assist the school district in developing a long-term strategic plan for the next five years. The contract with the firm was for a range of $25,000 to $30,000.

Hottel said there was a need to develop a long-range vision for education in the city. The strategic planning will include a review of the district’s facilities with a facilities committee making recommendations on how to better utilize space in the city’s schools.

Janet Valeri, principal of Ledge Street Elementary School, is overseeing the process for the district. She said the process will include focus groups to help get a feel from various parts of the community on what they want to see in the future of the district.

The focus groups, which will begin meeting soon, will include discussions with parents, teachers and business leaders, among other groups, she said. There could also be groups broken out for specific pockets of the community, such as the Latino community, Valeri said. “We want to get as many groups included as possible,” she said.

The timeline has the strategic planning process concluding in March. At that point, Valeri said the district would have specific goals that can be measured and implemented.

She said the critical aspect is that people who haven’t been part of the discussion in the past, including many aldermen, are included. So if it turns out people want full-day kindergarten in all of the schools, more people are involved in the discussion about why that was a priority, Valeri said.

“We haven’t always involved the community in the past,” she said.

Board member Sandra Ziehm voted against hiring a firm to assist the district with its strategic planning. Her understanding is that the major thrust of the process is determining whether redistricting is necessary. “That being the case, what information is this going to provide us that NESDEC did not provide us?” she said.

Ziehm was referring to the facilities study that the school district paid $27,980 to the New England School Development Council to conduct.

The study included enrollment projections, a space analysis of every building and a list of recommendations for how to better utilize space within the schools. Ziehm said she didn’t understand why there was a need to bring in another firm to assist with planning.

School board President Tom Vaughan said there was consideration for going it alone but that without the firm’s assistance and expertise, there was the risk of the process taking much longer and wrapping up without any substantive results to show. “We needed to make sure that at the end of the process, we have something we can use,” he said.

Vaughan said it’s important to him that the process is as inclusive as possible. He said there needs to be a process for parents, students or any other community members who want to take part to be able to get involved.