Chippewa board discusses strategic planning, purchases new buses

By: Jeremy Selweski | C&G Newspapers | Published February 4, 2015

CLINTON TOWNSHIP/MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Members of the Chippewa Valley Schools Board of Education agree that the district’s first strategic planning process in more than 20 years is going well so far.

The issue was addressed at length during the board’s Jan. 26 meeting. Two days earlier, the district had hosted a strategic planning community forum in the Chippewa Valley High School auditorium featuring a guest speaker from Oakland University.

Strategic planning is the practice of determining where an organization wants to be in the future and how it will get there. It involves identifying goals and objectives, and developing a roadmap for how to achieve those goals and objectives in the most efficient way possible.

Chippewa Valley Schools last implemented a strategic plan in 1992, so officials hope to use this process to determine core beliefs and goals that will guide their decision making in the future. The new plan will seek to answer three key questions: What is our district doing well? What are the areas with the most room for improvement? Where do we want to be in three to five years?

According to Diane Blain, director of school and community relations for the district, there were more than 100 people in attendance at the community forum. Chippewa Valley officials are currently in the process of forming a strategic planning committee made up of at least 60 community stakeholders ranging from teachers, administrators, board members and union leaders to parents, students, civic leaders and business owners.

“Even though we all wished that the turnout had been better,” Blain told the board, “we actually had 34 people fill out applications to be part of the strategic planning committee, which is a lot of people, relatively speaking, when you look at the size (of the turnout). So we’re very excited about that, and we received some very good feedback. … I think we’ll get to that number (60) fairly quickly.”

Added Superintendent Ron Roberts, “I think our community was really happy to be able to sit down and say what they think, as were our staff members who were there. … There are a lot of wonderful things that we already know about our district, and it’s nice to know that other people recognize those (things), as well. There are challenges that we have, too, that probably won’t surprise you when you see them, and those are things that we think about all the time.”

Trustee Denise Aquino, who also attended the forum, applauded district administration for putting together the event, adding that she relished the opportunity to sit and chat with local residents.

“The community (members) that I sat with were very excited to be asked (their opinions) and very engaged with what was happening,” she said. “So I just want to say that it was very well done, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the process. It’s been a long time since we’ve done anything like this, and I think it’s very much needed and welcomed by the community.”

The Jan. 26 meeting also saw the board vote on a pair of important items. One of these was the approval of Chippewa Valley’s 2015 summer tax collection agreement with Clinton and Macomb townships. This year’s cost will be $1.73 per parcel in Clinton Township, with the district paying $1.50 and the remainder coming from the Macomb Intermediate School District and Macomb Community College. In Macomb Township, the cost will be $1.75 per parcel, with $1.50 to be paid for by the district and the rest to be collected from the MISD and MCC.

According to Scott Sederlund, assistant superintendent of business and operations for the district, “These are the same tax rates that we paid to both townships in 2014. … Not collecting the summer taxes would have a significant impact on district cash flow and result in the district borrowing up to $14 million as a result, with a significant borrowing cost.”

The other important item involved purchasing four new school buses — two 77-passenger vehicles with storage space and two 65-passenger vehicles with wheelchair lifts — at a total cost of $378,616. Sederlund explained that the buses were recommended by the district’s director of transportation, Brendan Wagner, after comparing specifications from three different manufacturers.

“These buses will be funded out of our 2010 (capital improvement) bond program, and yes, this purchase was part of our original budget,” he stated. “There is still bond money allocated for bus purchases into the future for the next couple years.”

During his report to the board, Roberts discussed the trip he took to Grand Rapids on Jan. 23 to watch Chippewa Valley students perform at the Michigan Music Educators Conference. He singled out especially strong performances by the Wyandot Middle School choir and the Dakota High School wind ensemble, the latter of which he was able to see in person. To illustrate his point, he played a video of the wind ensemble’s performance that he shot on his cellphone.

“I was truly amazed,” he said. “Not that I didn’t expect quality, but these kids were so talented and so good and so well-taught. It was just really impressive. … If you want to talk about teamwork, there it is. There is such split-second timing involved (in what they do) … and I was just blown away by how good those students were.”

In addition, Roberts gave the board an update on the district’s new Bridges in Mathematics program, which it implemented at all of its elementary schools at the start of this school year. The superintendent indicated that so far, he has visited six of the district’s 12 elementary schools to witness Bridges lessons in action.

“It truly is transformative when you watch it,” he said. “This has kind of tipped it all (traditional math instruction) on its side. I’ve been in classrooms for an hour and a half where teachers never stopped instructing and kids never stopped participating. These lessons are so well laid-out … and the teaching I have seen is just impressive. To watch kids focus for an hour and a half and think about what they’re doing — it’s new, it’s different and it’s wonderful.”

During his comments, Treasurer George Sobah pointed out how Chippewa Valley would soon be making its mission known at the national level. He recognized some of his fellow board members, who were scheduled to travel to Washington, D.C., the following weekend along with thousands of other Michigan school board members in order to lobby federal legislators to support public education.

“It’s really a worthwhile effort, and it’s pretty impressive how they (will) storm Capitol Hill that day,” Sobah said. “I just want to say thank you on behalf of the board for clearing room out of your schedule. … Thanks for going and representing Chippewa Valley, and making sure our voice is heard.”