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Local, national leaders give strategic plan input

Panel Discussion Always LearningNearly 120 San Antonio ISD staff and students, along with representatives from local, state, and national nonprofits, governmental agencies, and education systems, gathered Feb. 10 to provide final input on the district’s Always Learning five-year strategic management plan at the Always Learning Community Summit.


It was the final step in a months-long composition and revision process leading up to the plan’s final presentation to the Board of Trustees Feb. 27.


“I would say that for me as an educator and community member in SAISD, Always Learning represents a pretty dramatic shift in how we think about education in our communities,” Alejandra Lopez, president of the San Antonio Alliance, said as part of the day’s panel discussion. “One of our organizing mantras is ‘nothing about us without us,’ and this plan is really an embodiment of that, and the level of engagement we have seen ensures that everyone that is impacted by this plan has had the opportunity to shape it.”


The day kicked off with a keynote address from Fox Tech student Ramiro Lopez, who encouraged the summit to think about the plan in terms of equity and resources for teachers.


“Ensuring equity within the learning environments in San Antonio will make certain that the work you do will serve and improve those underserved communities,” Ramiro Lopez said. “We must help cultivate a sense of belonging within our schools and communities by providing opportunities for teachers to protect their craft, advance their careers and make good livings for them and their families. Ensuring that these irreplaceable people are given adequate resources will ensure their success and ensure the success of students across San Antonio.”


The summit then featured a panel discussion to provoke more ideas surrounding the plan, including Alejandra Lopez; Eric Gordon, chief executive officer of Cleveland Metropolitan School District; Tequilla Brownie, chief executive officer of TNTP; and Susana Córdova, superintendent-in-residence at Transcend Education. 


“Do not be overwhelmed by the plan’s 143 pages,” Gordon said. “What was really compelling to me as I read it is that there is an elegant through line between the four board goals and the guard rails to the four themes, the 12 components and the 58 objectives and the myriad activities that allow every person to see the role they play — a student, a parent or caregiver, an educator, a community member. The breadth is what ensures that everybody is in the plan and everybody has responsibilities. So it’s not just the breadth and depth, but it’s also the elegance of how those pieces are hanging together that is really unique and different than so many other strategic plans that’s I’ve personally experienced and observed across the country."


The panel spoke to the overall design of the plan, the equity goals of the plan, including raising math scores specifically for Black students, and strategies for implementation. The panel all agreed that the document must live, allow updates and change, and must infiltrate the strategies the SAISD Familia uses at every level.


“The worst thing that can happen is that this turns into a checklist,” Córdova said. “The best thing that this turns into a mindset shift.”


After the panel, the summit members got to work. In small groups including the seven student representatives, attendees evaluated the plan one last time through four different lenses: an equity stance, valuing our staff, “doability,” and transparency. 


Within each of these perspectives, groups had to reflect on their general thoughts on the plan, two potential pitfalls to avoid, and three ways the community could help accomplish the objectives in the plan.
Then, they reported back. 


“We talked about having short-term wins,” Dr. Rose Engelbrecht, principal of Hot Wells Middle School, reported on behalf of her group. “One of the parents in our group shared she is a second-grade parent and wants to know what will be done for her second-grade student this year, not two years from now. We talked about having goals along the way and sharing the goals with parents, so they know what we are doing and what we are going to accomplish.”


Reporters from each of the eight groups contained both adults and students alike, giving students a chance to voice their opinions on the future of the district.


“I like this plan,” Sam Houston senior Marcel Page said. “It seems like it’s going to work. I’ve heard about the other plans and this one has spice to it.”


Based on the feedback, the Office of Strategy made final edits to the plan, which was already influenced by the district coaching committee, more than 6,000 employee comments, and feedback from focus groups and the Gathering of Community Voices earlier in the month.


“I think what was so impressive to me is not just that you engaged so many touchpoints with vast community members and leaders but it’s the depth at which you did, and then you went back,” Brownie said. “Not only did you check the box, if you will, with a lot of touchpoints, but the way that you engaged.”


The final plan will be presented to the San Antonio ISD Board of Trustees Feb. 27.

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