OKEECHOBEE — Administrators in the Okeechobee County School District gathered on the morning of Sept. 25 to hear results from a series of focus groups conducted with community members and begin crafting a new vision and mission statement for the district to follow in upcoming years.
The focus groups were conducted by the group DeliverED, who were brought in to help the district craft and deliver the new strategic plan.
DeliverED founder Corey Gordan issued a survey to a wide group of stakeholders to gather perspectives on the current state of the school district. Focus groups were held with juniors and seniors at Okeechobee High School, families, community members, principals, teachers, administrative services staff, support services staff and instructional services staff.
The survey and focus groups highlighted several areas of strength. One of the strengths singled out was the sense of family that comes from the small size of Okeechobee. Other strengths mentioned were the caring and dedicated staff, strong academic offerings, safety and security improvements and effective communication between teachers and parents.
Six areas of opportunity within the school district were brought up in the focus groups. Those included improving teacher hiring and support, better use of available funds to address uncompetitive salaries, focus on ensuring academic rigor, prioritize ongoing updates facilities, continue to focus on safety and discipline and support district and school leaders to be strategic and inclusive.
The condition of the high school was brought up in focus groups as an area that needs improvement consistently. The first building at Okeechobee High School was constructed in 1966. Seven more buildings were added in 1968, two in 1973 and, finally, three in 1993.
Another issue brought out in the focus group was the lack of minorities in leadership positions in the district. School Board member Joe Arnold singled that out as something that resonated with him that the district needs to address.
Before the workshop began in earnest, those in attendance spoke about what things they were currently proud of in the school distinct as well as some areas of growth.
“What I think the district is very strong at is responding to a crisis,” said outgoing assistant superintendent of administrative services Renee Geeting. “When the safety issues came up or common core several years ago, we were able to respond. We’re very good at responding to things, looking at what needs to get done and getting it done. An area that we need to work on is the capacity of our leadership.”
Okeechobee County School Board Chairwoman Jill Holcomb echoed Mrs. Geeting’s thoughts.
“We need to really put together a plan to train some leadership,” said Mrs. Holcomb. “When principal positions come open, I feel like we have a very shallow pool. It’s a good pool, but it’s shallow. Need to continue to grow our own and look for leadership potential.”
Administrators brainstormed some new goals and visions for the district. The district will craft their strategic plan over the course of a few months. DelieverED founder Gordan says it will be a long process.
“Our focus at DeliverED is implementation,” explained Ms. Gordan. “We often underestimate the ‘how.’ Ninety percent of time is spent on the idea and only 10 percent on the ‘how.’ In education we know what works — strong leadership and high quality people. If you don’t have bold ideas plus quality execution, you won’t have a successful delivery.”