Monday, February 26, 2024

North Warren Approaches Final Draft of Five-Year Strategic Plan

In its May 15th meeting, the North Warren Regional School District Board of Education updated the community on its bustling late-spring season.

But first, a correction was needed. While wrestling with budget cuts in its April 24th meeting, the North Warren Regional School District Board of Education had made an error in calculating the cost of sending students to Ridge and Valley Charter School. At the time, it was believed that North Warren was sending nine students to Ridge and Valley next school year and that the per-pupil cost would be $29,000, a much higher cost than that of North Warren.

In the new meeting, Business Administrator Jennifer Kerr corrected those previous numbers. The per-pupil cost of sending students to Ridge and Valley is $17,500 this year. Next year, North Warren estimates that it will send 14 students to North Warren, not nine, and the per-pupil cost will actually be $18,700– a substantially different number that is much closer to North Warren’s own per-pupil cost. Both numbers are estimates, though, as final student counts aren’t made until near the end of the school year.

Meanwhile, North Warren continues the usual flurry of events that mark the approach of June and the freedom of summer: prom, Teacher Appreciation Week, the final makeup window for the NJSLA test and AP exams. The last push to the end of the year will see even more activities: Barnyard Day on May 23rd, the annual Voices of the Veterans event on Thursday, May 25th, followed by the Art Show later that evening, the eighth grade dinner dance on June 9th, the senior cruise on June 12th, the Multicultural Fair on June 14th, and of course, graduation on June 16th.

North Warren looked even further into the future with its third strategic planning meeting on Monday, May 22nd. The roots of this plan began last year, when North Warren Regional partnered with the nonprofit Battelle For Kids to determine the criteria that would define North Warren graduates– or, to borrow the school’s language, to paint the Portrait of a Patriot. North Warren staff worked with Battelle to get feedback from everyone in the school community, including all students and their families, to determine the qualities that a North Warren education aims to produce.

This school year, North Warren has partnered with Battelle again to create its five-year strategic plan. The process began last fall with a survey that went out to all school staff, students and parents, with the goal of determining school wide goals, concerns and strengths. Superintendent Jeanene Dutt estimates that the school received over 700 responses– an impressive turnout, especially for a school that enrolled fewer than 700 students in the 2021-2022 school year.

Battelle staff worked with North Warren to find patterns in the survey data and distill the findings into five main priority areas for the school: finances, facilities, academic development, community engagement and communication. Then, in a total of three team design meetings, students, staff and families met to discuss how to turn those five priorities into general goals broken down into specific, time-limited action items. After further input and revision, the final document will provide the school’s strategic vision and long-term goals for the next five years.

In the third and final team design meeting on May 22nd, a small but dedicated gathering pored over the latest draft of North Warren Regional’s strategic plan. The five overarching priorities are final; the more concrete goals, which include methods for increasing student career readiness, environmental sustainability and financial stability, among many other objectives, may still change in the final draft. Meeting attendees submitted their feedback for the latest draft through three levels of online surveys, with some overall discussion at the end.

Meeting participants seemed largely pleased with the school’s proposed strategic direction and the care evident in the planning process.

“Obviously, a lot of time and effort went into the document,” one person said.

Another expressed appreciation for the concreteness of the proposed goals and their accompanying action items.

“Everything in [the plan] has a way to be measured,” she said.

Several participants voiced approval for the plan’s communal development process. This is the first year that North Warren Regional has used wide-scale surveys and a series of meetings over several months to create a strategic plan that’s truly driven by the community’s concerns. The time-intensive process is worth the investment, Dr. Dutt believes.

“Everyone in our community is telling us that these are our five priorities,” she said.

The input from the third and final team design meeting will be distilled into notes for the strategic plan writing team. Then, the revised draft will be presented to the board of education in its June 12th meeting for discussion and final revisions, with the final draft slated for approval in the July 17th meeting.

In the general atmosphere of optimism, there was one shared doubt. The third survey posed the question: What challenges do you foresee? Meeting attendees gave the same simple answer: money. Over a period of seven years, North Warren Regional has lost almost $4 million in state aid. This new strategic plan includes projects meant to bolster North Warren’s programs in the face of decreased funding, but time will tell if that balancing act can succeed.

Chip O'Chang
Chip O'Chang, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Chip O'Chang is an educator, fiction writer, and lifelong resident of New Jersey. He has also written for My Life Publications and NJ Indy. He lives in the NJ Skylands with his partner, two cats, and and a bearded dragon.