Decision Making Based Upon Planning is a Strategic "Must" in Schools Today

Schools and school budgets have been front and center in the news media recently. In fact, one news story carried the headline "Approximately 90 percent of public school budgets are approved in New York State." Actually, 88.89 percent were approved as compared to 83.5 percent a year ago. A substantial number of the successful budget approval results were won by a razor thin edge. Also, there is a disturbing note in all of this, voter turn out was significantly lower as compared to recent years of previous voting. This should be a matter of concern and may say suggest a degree of voter apathy and some uncertainly on the part of the electorate.

We believe that an informed public is a contributing public. Clearly, an informed pubic is democracy's best friend. This is so true in all public institutions and, indeed so necessary in matters related to public education. In any given school district, it is the school board that sets the direction of a given district and it is the school board that is accountable for results. Also, we believe that it is the school board who must make provisions to assure that the pubic is kept informed and, if possible, involved. Again, an informed pubic is a contributing public and can serve as active partners in the planning and decision making process. The strategic planning process is just such a mechanism to accomplish this desirable objective. Public schools would do well to give this matter serious thought. Prudent decision making based upon serious strategic planning must be front and center in our schools today.

Strategic planning is a management tool, period. It is nothing more and nothing less. When used appropriately, it is uniquely useful in nearly all types of situations and organizations, including that of the public school system. It is a goal-setting process in which an organization envisions its future and identifies the necessary steps to achieve that vision. Organizations maximize their effectiveness when they periodically establish and monitor their goals and plan for efficient and effective ways of achieving them. This is true and is applicable in a variety of organizations: municipal, business, faith based, public service or private establishments. As with most management tools, it is used to help an organization do a better job-to focus its energy, to ensure that members of the team are working toward the same goals, and to assess and adjust the direction in response to a changing environment including that of financial exigency. It is a way of encouraging sharing and partnering efficiency, maximizing organizational effectiveness and fostering institutional excellence. Strategic planning taps into the energy and resourcefulness of people within the total organization to build for its future. In short, the strategic planning process is a disciplined effort to produce fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, what it does, and why it does it. The end result is to achieve excellence in a managed and comprehensive manner.

The process is disciplined in that it calls for a certain order and pattern, within the momentum, to keep it focused and productive. The process raises a sequence of questions that helps planners examine background experience, test assumptions, gather and incorporate information about the present, and anticipate the environment in which the organization will be working in the future. The plan is ultimately no more, and no less, than a set of decisions about what to do, why to do it, and how to do it effectively. Because it is impossible to do everything that appears highly desirable, strategic planning implies that some organizational decisions and actions are more important than others--and that much of the strategy lies in making the tough decisions about what is most important in achieving organizational success in light of its identified goals.

Strategic planning assumes that an organization must be responsible to a dynamic, changing environment. Certainly a common assumption has emerged that the environment is indeed fluid, often in unpredictable ways. Strategic planning then stresses the importance of making decisions that will ensure the organization's ability to successfully respond to changes in the environment.

Strategic planning is only useful if it supports strategic thinking and leads to strategic management, which is the basis for an effective organization. Strategic thinking means asking, Are we doing the right thing? Perhaps, more precisely, it means making that assessment using three key requirements about strategic thinking: a definite purpose is in mind; an understanding of the environment, particularly of the forces that affect or impede the fulfillment of that purpose; and creativity in developing effective responses to those forces.

Strategic planning has been described as a tool; it is not a substitute for the exercise of prudent management. Ultimately, the managerial leadership of any enterprise, such as the public school, needs to create an environment conducive to creative thinking. Just as the hammer does not create the bookshelf, so the data analysis and decisions-making tools of strategic planning do not make the organization work. The success of any organization is uniquely tied in with wise implementation of the results generated by sound reasoning and thoughtful people planners who make up the organizational system. And in the long run, as we stated earlier, an informed pubic is democracy's best friend. That is how we see it FROM OUR PERSPECTIVE.