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Huntsville City Schools will be using the hash tag – #focusED2020 – for 2019-20 as the district strategically focuses on ensuring all students are learning at high levels with 20/20 vision.

“Kicking off the year we want to make sure that everyone understands our goals,” Superintendent Christie Finley said. “In order to do that, last year we made it a priority to determine where we are and where we’re going and in order to do that you need a strategic plan.”

She said community conversations were held throughout the school feeder patterns, and a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats analysis was done to help develop a strategic plan with the core being student learning and achievement.

“We want to make sure we have students learning at high levels and have the opportunities to learn at high levels at all of our schools,” Finley said.

The pillars that make up the foundation of the three-year strategic plan, include: Learning Outcomes, the Whole Student, Professional Growth, Operations and Resources, and Community Connections. The plan has built-in benchmarks to determine success and whether the plan needs adjusting before three years is up.

Learning outcomes focuses on the Reading and Math achievement and growth in grades three through eight, a piece that is one part of the system’s accountability measure from the State Department of Education. There is an ACT component as well for the high school classes.

Other targeted outcomes include ensuring students are on-track for on-time graduation by the end of ninth grade and continuing to expand career technical program to align with workforce demands.

“We’re calling this year the Year of the Whole Student,” Finley said.

The Whole Student component means making sure that all campuses are safe and conducive to learning.

“We want to make sure our students feel like they’re in a positive environment and they can learn in every school and every classroom,” Finley said. “Before we can really get into learning and achievement we have to make sure those students feel like they’re cared about because they don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”

Increased attendance rates and implementation of a comprehensive guidance curriculum are also targeted outcomes.

“We are focused on making sure our teachers are fed daily with what they need to perfect their skill and craft. They are the practitioners,” Finley said. “We’ve been working with local groups to sponsor a teacher for board certification. We’ve got 80 teachers right now in the pipeline. … Our feedback has been that it’s the best professional development they’ve ever done so we want to extend national board certification opportunities.”

The professional development aspect also includes making sure all teachers have a positive and supportive work environment, to increase teacher retention and provide purposeful professional development that directly supports classroom instruction.

When it comes to operations and resources, Finley said finances are critical. When she stepped into the role a year ago, she was forced to take a hard look at finances resulting in nearly $9 million in cuts of excess spending.

“We had areas that needed to be looked at because we were spending more than we were taking in and we wanted to be sure we were protecting the classroom,” she said. “We know that the single most important factor in ensuring students are learning and achieving is a highly qualified teacher and if we’re cutting the classroom we’re hurting our kids.”

Maintaining the classroom and high quality instruction is Finley’s priority. Other objectives include ensuring all school facilities are safe and promote a conducive learning environment, and maintaining appropriate reserves to cover operating expenses.

The fifth pillar of the plan includes expanding community communications and transparency.

She said Rena Anderson and Keith Ward lead that pillar. They’re doing a lot of things to make sure stakeholders know what’s happening in Huntsville City Schools through soliciting feedback from community members and stakeholders, and partnering with community organizations to provide enrichment opportunities for students.

“We’re really communicating the strategic plan by meeting with different organizations, parent organizations and we want the students to know the strategic plan,” Finley said. “We’re excited for the next school year.”

Finley is also excited for the future. She and the staff are now working on capital plan Project 2025, including what’s been learned from the one-to-one initiative from 2011 to see what learning will look like in 2025.

“We don’t know that, but it’s time to start thinking about what we want to do that’s innovative. We live in the City of Huntsville, and it’s very innovative. Our school system should be too,” she said. “We are overcoming those financial hurdles because we want to ensure our students have the best opportunities that all students have across the nation and to be workforce ready and competitive whether in job market, college or military.”

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