3 Keys To Successfully Implementing A District Strategic Plan

Everybody seems to have a strategic plan…

Experts like the Wallace Foundation and others have shown that great school districts must establish a strategic vision. And most school systems we talk to have a strategic plan, or are working on one.

…yet most of us do not act on our plans.  

Despite all of the thoughtful discussion, planning and work, the most common place to find a strategic plan is sitting on a dusty shelf. Strategic planning experts tell us that most strategic plans never get implemented (in school systems OR in the business world).  

How can this be?

How is it possible that this foundational tool that everyone has and everyone agrees is important doesn’t get used?  More importantly, how do you liberate your strategic plan from its three-ring-binder prison and make it useful?

We found three keys that will help you go from plan to implementation.

To solve this mystery, we talked to a lot of school systems, including many that DO use their strategic plans.  We also reached out to experts and read up on the research.  We found three keys to making strategic planning actually useful:

  1. EDIT your plan down to a page.
    That can be really hard to do.  If you engage your stakeholders and community in developing your strategic plan, it’s easy to come up with a very long list of strategies and initiatives.  But prioritizing everything is the same thing as prioritizing nothing – if it takes a binder to list the things you’re going to do, they’re not likely to get done (or even looked at).  School districts that can articulate their strategy in one page (like Ector County Independent School District’s Performance Prioritization Plan) have attained a level of focus, clarity, and alignment that sets them up for success, and makes their plans actually useful.  Back it up with a binder if you need to, but if you can’t synthesize in one page, your plan is much less likely to get used.
  2. DEFINE what success (and failure) look like.
    That means identifying measurable outcomes and setting goals.  “Improve student engagement” is not measurable; “Reduce chronic absence to 7% of students” is.  Oakland Unified School District’s Balanced Scorecard, with its clear check marks and Xs, is a great example of how strategic goals can be clearly measured.  And remember, defining what “off track” looks like is as important as defining success.
  3. INSTITUTIONALIZE your plan by reporting on progress at least monthly.
    The ACSD’s survey of school district strategic plans found that effective districts checked in on their progress at least monthly.  Regular check-ins can identify opportunities to change course, which drives real action.  Annual “autopsy” check-ins all too often uncover problems where it’s too late to solve.

Monthly reporting probably won’t happen without an automated tracking system for your plan.

Of course, as with most school improvement strategies, this is all easier said than done.  Most district leaders we talk to agree: obviously, it’d be great to have a one-page plan of measurable goals that we check in on monthly.  But how do we get there?  It’s genuinely hard, especially without the right tools.  That’s why so many school districts write strategic plans but don’t actually implement them.

Sign up for a demo if you want to see our district progress monitoring solution.

Schoolzilla has worked with school systems across the country, including St. Louis Public Schools, to turn strategic plans into everything-on-one-screen dashboards that make it easy to monitor goals monthly (or even daily). We are working hard to help districts act on their plans.  


Interested in learning more?