School Board and officials setting course for future of Minneapolis Public Schools


Strategic planning process seeks broad range of input

While Minneapolis school students are enjoying a summer of rest, recreation and reading the latest Harry Potter book, district administrators, consultants, parents, staff and other stakeholders have been hard at work on a strategic planning process that will determine the direction of the school district in the next several years as it tries to improve both its public image and the quality of education it provides to its diverse body of students.

The strategic planning process is being coordinated by the Minneapolis office of McKinsey & Co., a management consulting firm that has offered its services for free to the school district. The process will go through several phases as McKinsey staff collect public input, sort through information to identify three to five strategic issues on which to focus, and then present options and possibly recommendations to members of the Minneapolis School Board for their approval in November.

The process is designed to incorporate maximum feedback from community members, something the school district has often been criticized for failing to do in the past. Over the summer months, consultants from McKinsey have been holding public meetings and focus groups with parents, teachers and staff to gather opinions about the Minneapolis schools and learn what changes people would like to see the district make.

In an effort to reach as many stakeholders as possible, McKinsey has 10 staffers who are, together, spending 1,000 hours making phone calls to members of immigrant communities. They have also set up focus groups specifically tailored to members of the African American, Hmong, Latino, Native American and Somali communities.

In addition, questionnaires were mailed in July to 31,000 families of children in the Minneapolis Public Schools and 9,000 families who used to send their children to Minneapolis schools. Members of the general public can also share their opinions using the district’s website where community members are invited to take a “10-Second Survey.”

Finally, McKinsey has established two advisory groups to assist in the strategic planning process. The Strategic Advisory Group, made up of 17 people from a wide range of backgrounds—including parents, teachers, business people and representatives of civic and religious institutions—will help McKinsey review data and formulate recommendations. A larger Community Connections Committee, which was still being formulated at press time, will help facilitate communications surrounding the strategic plan.

Royce Holladay, director of strategic planning for the Minneapolis Public Schools, said that while McKinsey is doing its research work, she is working within the district administration to create the infrastructure and accountability mechanisms necessary to implement the recommendations the School Board adopts.

“When the recommendations come into the system, we want to make sure they have a place to live and don’t just end up sitting in a notebook on the shelf,” she said. “We have a real commitment to use the data to make a difference in what we do for our kids.”

Holladay also said that the six-month time frame of the planning process is designed to accommodate two priorities: the needs of parents to have information before they make enrollment decisions for next year and the district’s need to present a clear direction and articulate firm priorities as it prepares to possibly ask voters for additional monies in a 2008 referendum.

Pam Costain, chair of the Minneapolis School Board, said she is pleased with the way the strategic planning process is going so far. “I think we’re very lucky to have the expertise of McKinsey,” she said. “They really know how to synthesize information and make it clear.”

Costain said she is especially pleased by the range of people who are being contacted to provide input. “We’re finding that people never feel like they’re consulted enough, but what I feel very good about is that we’re reaching very deeply and broadly to get people’s opinions,” she said. “We’re not just communicating with people who are insiders.”