As Beatrice Public Schools prepares to create a new strategic plan for the district through Cambridge Strategic Services, administrators are reflecting on how the district has exceeded or could improve on the current plan’s strategies.
Assistant Superintendent Jackie Nielsen discussed the strategies during a school board meeting Thursday evening. She said the first strategy, which focuses on enhancing student education by creating innovative learning experiences, has been met in several ways.
Nielsen specifically noted the innovation by using new technology, especially with students learning online last semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She also said that the district emphasizes that students participate in job shadowing and internships.
“We are working with the chamber and working with the city and partners to really develop kind of an internship/externship resource for our students and for our teachers so they know what’s out there and they know what’s possible and what is in our community…We still have things to do, and we won’t ever be finished with this strategy. That’s the thing, I think every teacher is working on this every day, so I don’t foresee us ever being finished with strategy one,” Nielsen said.
Strategy two focuses on the culture of the district and exemplifying character for students.
Nielsen said one way the district has addressed this is by talking to community leaders and seeing what characteristics they look for in potential employees, and then picking a handful to particularly exemplify, especially at Beatrice High School. She said they also focus on modeling and reinforcing character expectations throughout the district.
“If our students are acting in high moral character, you tend to see that culture seems to be a lot more positive,” Nielsen said. “So those are the things we utilize to help us monitor where we are and where we need to go with a strategy.”
The third strategy focuses on community engagement.
Nielsen said the district has a school messenger service to contact parents in emergencies, and have increased using social media to communicate other information. She said especially with the current school plan this fall, the district is looking to hold remote learning webinars to teach parents how to check grades and access online learning materials.
Nielsen explained the second part of that strategy includes engaging students in the community with volunteer and internship opportunities.
“I just think that there’s a lot more community engagement now than there has been,” Nielsen said. “We’re trying to again, figure out how to work together to keep our students in Beatrice working in our industries, working in our business, working where we need them.”
Board member Erin Chadwick suggested that the district can improve on this strategy by announcing on social media when there is a school board meeting.
“Just in conversation with people, it seems that there are quite a few out there that didn’t realize our meetings are open to the public,” Chadwick said. “That was kind of a surprise to some. So I think maybe just extending that invite may help increase that engagement with us, letting them know they have a voice and that it can be heard.”
Nielsen agreed, noting that the public can also view the meetings online and reach out to a board member through email if they want to communicate an idea.
Strategy four looks at district building facilities and infrastructure, as well as technology needed to accomplish all the previous strategies.
Nielsen said the district does energy and safety audits at school buildings yearly. She also said COVID-19 impacted organizing a facility planning committee this spring.
“We are looking at really trying to let that committee, and bring in quite a few stakeholders to that committee, our parents, community members, to really help us drive that facility planning in determining what our needs are and what our priorities are, and how do we go about it,” Nielsen said. “How do we continue to move forward and make sure our facilities are always adequate and meeting our students’ needs, making sure that they have everything that they need for learning purposes and more to really help push them to that next level.”
With students potentially returning to online learning this fall, Nielsen said they’ve also looked at technology infrastructure to ensure students can virtually connect to their classes.
When the board heard Cambridge Executive Director Kevin Castner’s new strategic plan in February, he said he plans to bridge the current plan into the new one. Castner’s potential plans included engaging the community in meaningful ways, ensuring construction and other expenditures are driven by learning goals, and deciding how to spend money and make cuts without sacrificing quality. His philosophy for all of these plans are that they are student-focused, community-based, have the full participation of those involved, and that decisions are agreed upon and actionable.
“We have some great things happening,” Nielsen said. “We probably don’t talk about [that] enough. We wouldn’t be able to do all of this stuff without all of our staff, without administration, without the board, without everyone else in our community…It’s exciting, and I’m excited to continue moving forward and continuing to look at where we go next.”
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