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  • Writer's pictureMike Vachow


Updated: Jun 24, 2021

On the list of reasons to dust off your school's strategic plan, enduring 18 months of a global pandemic should be at the top. Conversely, if ever there was a reason to reconsider setting out on a major school project like strategic planning, ditto. At Gowan Group, we're helping schools across the strategic plan timing spectrum as they navigate this complicated time.

If you haven't done so already, make time in the board's agenda this spring to review your active strategic plan or to pull your back-burnered new plan up to a brief, preliminary simmer. This act alone has the salutary effect of raising everyone's sights from the yearlong press of the immediate. Before you roll up your sleeves, however, step away from the plan and ask yourself--perhaps in an Executive Committee meeting--the following questions:

  • governance health: Has the pandemic strengthened or weakened the quality of governance at your school?

  • operations climate: From student and faculty perspectives, has your school found a rhythm this year or are have circumstances conspired to keep you on the hamster wheel, unable to plan beyond the next week?

  • leadership account balance: Forced to make many unhappy decisions this year, heads have drawn deeply on their political capital, particularly with the faculty. Is there anything left?

  • spring commitments: It's hiring time and re-enrollment/new enrollment crunch time. How big are these mountains?

  • external factors: Has the pandemic altered the competition, family net incomes? Are there new threats, new opportunities? How have the other local schools performed throughout the pandemic and what's the early word on their planning for fall 2021?

If you find yourself on the negative end of the spectrum on too many of these questions, consider an attenuated version of strategic planning, whether it is a "bridge plan" to cover the time between the present and the initiation of a new plan, or a concentrated review of an existing plan. Processes like these would necessarily have more windows than doors, opportunities for faculty and current parents, perhaps other constituencies, to have visibility into and discrete opportunities to contribute to the work. The board would otherwise do most of the work on a conservatively circumscribed timeline. We recommend that schools limit bridge plans to one or two goals and that revisions on existing plans be very conservative in anticipation of the continued press of the immediate and the opportunity all schools should take to curate the most promising learnings from the pandemic. Publish the results to the entire community, assign implementation tactics and revise the Gantt chart that you use to track progress. If strategic plan check points aren't built into your yearly board calendar, now is the time to do that as well. Don't forget to set a marker in board's longer term planning for the date you'd like to have an RFP ready for the school's next full strategic planning process. Brief warning: we've encountered a few schools that have fallen in love with bridge plans such that they have become a series of chained together extension plans for years on end, predictably leaving strategy and diving ever deeper into the operational forest. Don't do this.

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