Lexington Public Schools’ New Strategic Plan Highlights Joy, Curiosity and Compassion

By Heather Beasley Doyle

Pictured: League if Women Voters of Lexington Spokesperson Lisa Smith, First Friday Forum co-organizer Ingrid Klimoff, LPS Superintendent Julie Hackett, LWV Convener Margaret Coppe, and LWV Treasurer Charles Hornig.
PHOTO CREDIT: HEATHER BEASLEY DOYLE

Lexington Plan nears official implementation as values seep into schools

With rain melting the snow outside under gray skies, Public Schools Superintendent Julie Hackett stood in the large meeting room at Cary Memorial Library in February, waiting as Lisa Smith of the League of Women Voters of Lexington introduced her for the organization’s First Friday Forum. Hackett was there to talk about the district’s new strategic plan.

When she took to the podium, Hackett credited the school committee and community for recognizing that Lexington’s schools, known for academic excellence, could be even better. “The school system really needed some sort of glue to bind it together and some sort of conversation about how we were going to move forward,” she said. To that end, Hackett has led an effort over the past year and a half to create a new strategic plan for Lexington Public Schools.

The plan includes eight core values, a 10-year vision statement, and four strategic goals (see sidebar). A brief mission statement—Joy in learning; curiosity in life; and compassion in all we do—encapsulates the plan’s spirit. Hackett, who took over as LPS superintendent in July 2018, had already worked on a handful of strategic plans before arriving in Lexington. Throughout the process here, she has reiterated that most strategic plans bear a “remarkable sameness,” which she wanted to avoid this time around.

The process included community members, students, teachers, and administrators. Hackett said in an interview that those at the helm took care to connect with specific interest groups, to glean the broadest possible picture of community priorities and opinions, then using that data and feedback to create a customized, detailed vision.

Under Hackett’s leadership, a Strategic Planning Team spearheaded the plan’s creation. Another group, the Synthesis Team (the superintendent and central administration members sat on both teams), had a specific, crucial job within the effort. Members gathered, distilled, and worked to articulate community sentiment. Hackett is satisfied with the new plan’s singularity. She’s not alone. “We came up with this not because we dreamed it up out of our heads in a conference room, but because it came from actual input from people in the community,” School Committee Chair Eileen Jay said during the First Friday Forum.

The resulting core values, vision statement, and goals lay the groundwork for a culture shift within Lexington’s schools. Hackett is quick to emphasize that the plan does not move the district away from academic excellence. “We have high achievers, we have high expectations; that’s not something we ever want to lose,” she said.

She was just as clear that Lexington Public Schools needed to address some fundamental problems head-on for the first time. She pointed to students who are academically “in the middle,” talked about creating different kinds of educational experiences, highlighted the need to cultivate interpersonal skills, and mentioned student stress more than once. “The community has identified a need for a transformation when they talk about the fact that our kids are feeling stress and pressure that, perhaps, is unnecessary in some cases,” she said. “We have had in the past, and it can’t be ignored, students who have taken their own lives. This happens in other communities, too, and it is really important to us to pay attention because we’re all responsible for creating and raising healthy young adults.”

At this point, the plan “is both done and not done,” according to Hackett. “The framework, the structure, the roadmap is complete,” she said. But “a document that is complete would have the strategy and the implementation and the expectations, along with the framework that’s been created.” The final step is “to talk about the actual strategies that we’re going to implement, and how we intend to go about that.” Those talks have begun and will continue in mid-March. Ultimately, the plan will include specific, district-wide implementation plans. One example is diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) hiring practice initiatives.

At the League of Women Voters event, Hackett broadly outlined the plan’s goals and tenets and showed two videos illustrating its process and core values. Mostly, she opened the floor to questions. Attendees raised several issues, including school/community communication and different options for offering vocational-style skills and education. Notably, the strategic plan’s “touchy-feely” qualities were questioned, with one attendee wondering what the new approach meant for academics. Hackett reiterated that academic rigor isn’t being sidelined, but opened up so that teaching even traditional subjects doesn’t “necessarily have to look like a traditional form of education,” she said. “What we want to do is give people permission to experiment with those ways. The plan also talks about taking risks, experiencing failure—all of the things that we know are important parts of learning. So we haven’t abandoned the academics.”

One of the biggest challenges, Hackett said during the interview, has been the time and work involved in both reaching Lexington’s grassroots and aggregating the information collected through forums, meetings and other events—and carefully crafting the plan’s wording from that data. “Making time to make sure that all voices were represented was something that was really important to all of us,” she said.

Hearing from so many voices in the community created another challenge: squaring up a wide array of opinions. “‘Have a lot of homework’ or ‘don’t have any homework’ would be the recommendation, so it would be polar opposite points of view. And that’s just one small example.” The synthesis team’s job, she added, wasn’t to report out on community opinions, but to create a unified vision with them. “Giving people the confidence to help me make those choices was also a challenge inherent in the process,” she explained. “It’s our job and our duty and our obligation, most importantly to kids, to be able to say, ‘here’s the direction we’re headed, and I know that might not completely meld with where some people want to go, but here’s the direction we’re headed, here’s why, and we hope you’ll partner with us in it.”

As the synthesis team determines which strategies to implement, and how, some in the district are already bringing the new core values, vision, and mission statement to life, in classrooms, at a nurses’ meeting, in school committee meetings and beyond. Diversity, equity and inclusion, Hackett noted, has already taken hold in a number of ways.

With the plan gradually evolving from ideas into practice, and with Lexington Public Schools exploring a more holistic approach, Hackett reflected on the journey: “This was definitely the most exciting and engaging strategic planning experience that I’ve ever been involved in.”

 

WHAT’S IN THE NEW LPS STRATEGIC PLAN?
Lexington Public Schools’ new strategic plan includes a mission, a vision, core values and strategic goals. You can find brief summaries of each below. The vision, as the term implies, is aspirational, describing key qualities that the district aims to embrace and exemplify by 2029.
For more detail, visit the superintendent’s blog online at: lexsuper.home.blog. Scroll to Reference Materials, then click on Executive Summary of the Strategic Plan.
MISSION:
Joy in learning; curiosity in life; and compassion in all we do.
VISION STATEMENT:
Diversity, equity, and inclusion:
Everyone has a right to an excellent education, and it is our individual and collective responsibility to create learning opportunities and systems that are fair and just.
REDEFINING SUCCESS: 
Lexington Public Schools has expanded its definition of success beyond traditional notions of student achievement.
STUDENTS AS ACTIVE AGENTS: 
Students voice their opinions, choose their learning pathways, and help shape their experiences and school culture.
Authentic learning experiences: Students make meaning by applying knowledge and skills to realistic situations, and they are prepared for their future as employees, leaders, citizens and stewards of our world.
COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIP:
We all join in partnership with the common goal of providing the highest quality of education for our students.
CORE VALUES:
We all belong
Use your mind
Be curious and have fun
Care for yourself and others
Do your part
Be courageous
Embrace your revolutionary spirit
You are enough
STRATEGIC GOALS:
Address and narrow equity gaps
Redefine success
Cultivate student agency
Innovate for sustainable change

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