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Planning the Future of Smithfield Public Schools

Future Search event gathers input from a cross-section of the community

By Ron Scopelliti

“What do we want our students to experience in Smithfield Public Schools to prepare them for the challenges and opportunities of a changing world?” That was the guiding question on the agenda when a diverse group of Smithfield community members gathered for a Future Search Conference at Bryant University on January 26 and 27.

Dr. Judith Paolucci, Superintendent of Schools for Smithfield, organized the event along with a committee consisting of Rosemarie Cipriano, Lisa Cournoyer, Andrea Patnaude, Sara Monaco, Brian Ackerman, Donna Olson, and Vin Zibelli. The goal was to get input for a new Strategic Plan, which she hopes to present to the School Committee before their April meeting.

The need for strategic planning was recognized last year by outgoing superintendent Robert O’Brien, who budgeted $12,000 for the process. The actual cost came in at less than $11,000.

“We do need a new strategic plan,” Paolucci said, noting that the previous plan only took the district through last year. “And when you’re writing a strategic plan, you want input from a variety of people.” Otherwise, she said, it can limit the focus of the plan.

Participants were invited personally, and through an open invitation in the School Department’s newsletter. The planning team made a special effort to come up with a diverse group to be involved in the process.

“We wanted the number of school people to be less than half,” Paolucci said. So the committee brainstormed community members they wanted to invite to come up with a cross-section of the town.

Paolucci and the committee settled on using the Future Search conference format based on her past experience.

“I have worked with Judy Enright, the facilitator before,” she said, “so I know how positive the event was. I had experience with it.”

She said the cost to bring Enright and her assistant in for three days and two nights cost less than $6,000, and that Enright provided all the materials. Food and drinks were paid for through the strategic planning budget. Bryant provided the Grand Hall at their Bello Center, at no cost, for the attendees who worked in small groups gathered around 14 tables.

Paolucci said the event, went very smoothly, and participants found a great deal of common ground.

“People were positive,” she noted. “Over major areas, people tend to agree. That’s not to say people didn’t find areas we can do better in – that’s going to be the case no matter where you are. But they were positive about it.”

The results of the conference were compiled in an Executive Summary that, as the Smithfield Times went to press, was scheduled to be posted on the District Info page of the Smithfield Public Schools website at www.smithfield-ps.org.

The highlight of the Executive Summary is a list of seven major goal areas that are detailed at the end of the document:

Instructional Programming and Practices: Ensure dynamic curriculum and student-centered learning, update assessment and grading practices, provide for a diversity of programs to meet the needs of all students.

Career Education: Expose students to career options and provide them with the skills for success in the workplace, in life, and in education after high school.

Technology: Continue to upgrade infrastructure and wireless capabilities, leverage social media for promoting district success, provide professional development for effective use of technology.

Social-Emotional Learning/Wellness: Attend to students’ social-emotional needs and provide opportunities for improving wellness.

Facilities: Prioritize facility needs, ensure ADA compliance and safety, support all teaching styles, provide for future functionality.

Finance: Encourage community investment in education, engage creative solutions to district needs, seek grant funding.

Parent and Community Engagement: Develop business and community partnerships, help families to engage in support of their child’s education.

According to the Executive Summary, a planning team will meet this month to develop action plans for each of the seven goal areas. These will then come together to form the Strategic Plan.

The plan will be presented to the School Committee for review and approval, and then will be made available to the public through the School Department website.

Staff members will be responsible for carrying out the action steps within the plan, and a district improvement team will meet three to four times annually to update and oversee its implementation. They may also convene annual community meetings, to report their progress in the seven goal areas, and receive further input.

“What’s nice about Smithfield is there are so many good things going on here,” Paolucci said. “We’re just building upon good. There’s nothing that needs to be totally blown up and then started again. There’s a lot of great things happening here.”

“I appreciate the work Bob O’Brien did,” she added. “There’s so many good practices in place. That just helps me to move it along and keep it going to a higher and higher level.”