Join us as we explore the complex process of strategic planning for Greenville County Schools with Teri Brinkman, who is leading the effort. Teri highlights the importance of strategic planning in maintaining focus on student achievement and success. She walks us through the data collection phase, community input sessions, and the role of stakeholders in shaping the district’s future.
This episode is a valuable resource for parents, students, and community members interested in the future of education in Greenville County. Your input matters, and Teri shares how you can participate in this process. Press play to learn more about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into shaping our schools.
Katy Smith: Greenville County Schools is in the process of revising its strategic education plan, which guides it in meeting the needs of its 77,000 plus students in helping them grow in both knowledge and skills. The South Carolina Education Department requires that districts revise the plans every five years and that it be done so collaboratively by a broad-based group of stakeholders using a consensus process.
I’m Katy Smith with Simple Civics: Greenville County, and today you’ll hear about that process and how you can get involved. Teri Brinkman, the strategic planning facilitator for Greenville County Schools, joins us to talk about the importance of strategic planning in maintaining focus on student achievement and success and she walks us through the data collection phase, community input sessions, and the role of stakeholders in shaping the district’s future. She’s interviewed by Catherine Schumacher, CEO of Public Education Partners.
Catherine Schumacher: Well, we’re really happy to be here with Teri Brinkman, who is leading the strategic planning process for Greenville County Schools. And you know, I think the way to start off would be to say that, you know, strategic planning isn’t something that the district just wants to do. It is something that it, it has to do and something that is required.
So could you share a little bit, um, about why strategic planning is so critical to the success of Greenville County Schools and the 78,000 students that it serves?
Teri Brinkman: Certainly. Thank you. Um, that’s a really great question. As you mentioned, it is required, but above and beyond that it’s really, really beneficial when it’s done right, in particular. When you are a large organization that is in the public domain, and particularly when I think you are owned by the community in the way that we are, people look at us and say, “oh, since you have the kids there all day, can’t you teach them about this?
And can’t you do this? And can’t you make sure they understand this, that and the other?” And pretty soon you are pulled in so many different directions. All legitimate asks, all really good things, but it’s very easy to lose your way and not keep the main thing the main thing. And so one of the things we talk about strategic planning doing is it is focused on student achievement and improving student achievement.
It is focused on our primary mission and I think it helps keep us on the right path when there are so many distractions that again, are all legitimate. You know, teach children about stranger danger, teach children about drugs and alcohol, teach children about all these things. But this helps keep us on the path for what we are most supposed to do.
Catherine Schumacher: And you really see that at school board meetings when they talk about like, this is how the, this is the particular thread that it lines through with the strategic plan. Um, well that’s really helpful. So talk about process and how, how folks can, can get involved, you know, what has happened so far and sort of what, how is this going to play out over the next several months?
Teri Brinkman: The strategic planning process really is a process. It is not something that is thrown together quickly or overnight or any of those things. Um, it started back in January of this year, January or February, when we started looking at strategic plans from other high achieving districts. That’s one of the first things you do to kind of see what are the trends, what are other people seeing?
Do they reflect what we think we’re gonna see? It’s just very interesting and it’s always nice to know when you see another district that you want to emulate or you want to be in the, you know, mentioned in the same conversation with how they’re handling things. So that started back in January. We are currently in what we call the data collection phase.
So we are pulling together all of our testing data. We are pulling together community input sessions and what parents have to tell us and employees and community members and students about what’s really going on? What are the challenges that you’re seeing? What are the things that you believe are distracting us from that main mission?
What is getting in the way of your success? What are we doing intentionally or unintentionally that make you feel like you don’t belong in Greenville County schools, that you don’t have a place here? In addition to that, we’re doing surveys.
They closed on June 2nd, and we’ve already gotten 16,000 responses, which we are very excited about. In addition, we are using data from the State Department of Education report card surveys, and so all the students fill those out. We are using upbeat survey data, which is a survey that’s done by our teachers to really talk about the climate in their school, to talk about their workload, to talk about all sorts of things.
It’s a really great survey, so we will pull together all kinds of testing data, other academic data. We will pull together survey results, both internal and external survey results. And all of those hopefully will give us a collective understanding of where we are, and that’s what we’re looking for.
Where are we right now? And so once you figure out where you are right now, then we go into phase two. That will begin this fall, probably around September when we’ll have a stakeholder meeting. We’ll have about a hundred or to 120 stakeholders from our community. We’ll come together in for two days. We will do a deep dive into this information and say, okay, what are our priorities? What do we really need to focus on? What needs to be the, um, key ingredients to us helping ensure our students success in the next five years? And so that will be phase two, and then that’s the answering, where do we wanna go? Right? And then phase three is really how do we get there?
And that’s the actual creation of the plan. That is looking at, um, strategies and goals and hopefully things that have a lot of bang for the buck, if that makes sense. You can do one thing, you can focus on one area, and it makes great improvements for students in a lot of places. A good example of that is, for example, the free breakfast, right?
We know that when kids are hungry, not only can they not focus and learn as well, but they also don’t behave as well, they don’t look forward to coming to school. I mean, when they know that they’re gonna get a good meal at school and they’re not gonna get one at home, that helps with absenteeism, it helps with focus, it helps with test taking, it helps with behavior.
So we look for things like that that can maybe have a large influence over multiple areas.
Catherine Schumacher: And you see that in terms of investment when you structure the budget and how are we, you know, how are we allocating again, the public resources in a smart way? As someone who, you know, I’m a, I’m a Greenville County School’s parent, proud parent of two high schoolers. So I participated in one of the, you know, initial sort of, focus groups.
And it was really, you know, it was very thoughtful key questions and then some follow up and, and an opportunity to really reflect on what our experience has been, you know, as, as my boys have gone through the school system. So there has been already such opportunity for parents to, to reflect and to, and to provide input.
So grateful for that. Um, you know, this isn’t your first time at the strategic planning rodio. Um, you oversaw the process the last time we did this, which I think was six years ago. Are there things that you sort of learned through that process that you’ve brought into this one, or changes that you’ve made.
Teri Brinkman: I would say that I did learn a lot last time. I learned a lot about the process. I learned a lot about how difficult it is for people to let go of their preconceived notions. That’s probably one of the main things I learned and I learned how very, very difficult it is when you’ve got 78,000 students and a community who thankfully is very invested in your school district.
When you are really trying to narrow a focus, it gets very, very hard because everyone’s thought is, well, why can’t we focus on 18 different things? I mean, you’re a big district, there’s 10,000 employees. Surely, you know, you can do all of these things. So, um, one of the main things I learned is how I need to allocate more time in this process for the narrowing down, the honing in, and the focusing to try to make our plan shorter.
Our plan is too big. Part of that has to do with the template that is provided by the state. It just absolutely, there’s, there’s just no way to do it. It is unwieldy. It is. But when you’ve got a 250 page plan and you, your particular responsibilities may be on any of those pages, it is very, very hard in addition to all of the everyday duties that everyone is required to do, to make sure that you, um, give all of those the appropriate amount of e energy and effort.
Catherine Schumacher: Well, I think that’s, it sort of leads into my next question, which is, you know, how do you make it focus and how do you move? What is the pro, what does it look like to move from this planning process to implementation over time? What does, what does that look like?
Teri Brinkman: So the actual plan is really how you do that. You know, we talk about these first two phases being where are we now and where do we wanna go? And then the third phase is really focused on that. It’s like, how do we get there? So we set these goals, and the goals of course have to be measurable because, you know, what do you really know if they’re not measurable, right?
And once you get your measurable goals, you start looking for strategies, best practices, things that have been shown to help you reach those goals. And then, you do it the same way you eat in an elephant, one bite at a time, right? So you take, you take your goals, and then you put strategies under those goals, and then under each strategy you put these actual action items.
And that is, I think, what you’re getting at, where you can actually see the strategic plan at work. It’s like, because we believe that we’ve got to improve reading, for example, then you are going to see that our first grade classroom size has gone down significantly.
Because while we cannot possibly meet the request to lower class sizes hugely across the board, what we can do is we can say, first grade is where reading really happens. First grade is where kids really, um, become school children. Kindergarten is still a lot of play. They learn a ton, but it’s not as structured, right? So if we can lower those first grade class sizes to a place where research shows us that it makes a difference academically, then hopefully you can catch some of those early reading problems, and so that’s where you really see that the plan is put into action.
Catherine Schumacher: An investment in, in counselors, like lowering those ratios. And I’ve, you know, have, having been with the district now for, you know, 10 years that you’ve seen that process and see how the, how the district when creating the budget you invest in the things that are aligned with the strategic plan. You know, it would be great as, as this process moves forward, and you said it’s going to be really, it’s a long as a long and thoughtful process as it should be for a large, you know, entity.
Can you speak to how the public can stay connectedif you’re an interested parent or an interested citizen to, to sort of be involved in the process and keep an eye on it as well.
Teri Brinkman: Absolutely. Really it’s easier now than it’s ever been, primarily because our board meetings are now, um, streamed. At least the audio is. And so if you listen to board meetings, you have alluded to this a few times. Everything that’s on a, a COW agenda, on a board agenda is somehow linked to the strategic plan, and it tells you how we are putting that plan into motion. That’s, um, the committee of the whole, when the board meets in its entirety, but it serves as a committee and then everything that is approved in the committee of the whole is then forwarded to the formal board meeting, which is on the fourth Tuesday of the month, whereas the cow is on the second Tuesday of the month.
People can participate in this process by watching the news, by visiting our website. We have a strategic planning page on the website where we’ll provide updates. Where, um, we will have results of surveys, things like that. We have, as I said, great response to our survey so far.
Our next step after all those responses are in, is to really dive into the data and figure out what it says. And then in September we will sit down with the strategic stakeholder group that I mentioned that’s gonna be representative from across the district. Um, we will have clergy members, we’ll have law enforcement, we’ll have elected officials, we’ll have parents, students, employees, business and industry, almost anyone you can think of will be represented.
So find out who those representatives are. If you have something that you really think is important, let them know going into it. Um, follow our board meetings where we’ll give updates on this. As I said, the plan will be presented to the board probably in April of next year, 2024 at the April COW meeting.
Listen in, come in, and hear that meeting, and then you’ve got two weeks to talk with your board member about what you might have concerns about or say, “Hey, we really thought this was important. Is that really in there somewhere?” Because we will not sit down and go through every single page of it. All of these documents when they’re going before the board will be posted on board docs.
You can access those through the Greenville County Schools website. You can see the draft of the strategic plan before it’s finalized, so you can give your input there. Talk to your principals, because principals will have representatives on this stakeholder group. So talk to your principals. Make sure they know what you think is important.
Catherine Schumacher: There are multiple touchpoints to, to be involved and I cannot overstate how much, if you are a parent or you know, community member, listening to those committee of the whole meetings and looking at the agenda and looking at the presentations made by the, the Greenville County Schools team and hearing that you can learn so much and it really is a very transparent process and there’s plenty of opportunity to, to see what’s going on.
And also for folks to build a relationship with their school board trustee. That is what they are there for. Um, they represent, you know, the members and, and, and the members of their, their district, their area. So I, it is so important, um, to make everybody feel like they can see and be part of this process.
And I think from my perspective, y’all are doing a, a good job. So well done because I know it’s a lot, it is a huge plan. So anything else you want folks to, to know about this or anything else you wanna share with us today?
Teri Brinkman: Well, you probably touched on the thing that, um, I would, I would like to mention. You know, so often I’ll have people say to me, “well, I just didn’t hear anything about this process.”
And then you say, “well, it was, it was in the local media.”
“Well, I don’t, I don’t watch the news and I don’t really read the newspaper.”
I’m like, “well, it was on the website and social media.”
“I don’t, I don’t do those either.”
“Well, there were, you know, signs on the marquis at the school.”
“Well, I don’t really ever drive by a school.” So I’d just like to say if you are interested, it’s a little bit incumbent upon you to make some effort, but to your point, there’s a lot of ways you can find out about it, but it does take a little effort.
But I know Whitney and the communications team has done everything they can to make it as transparent as possible, to make it as easy to navigate as possible on our website. It’s interesting to go in and read the plan. It’s interesting to see the things that, “oh, these action items, I understand how those might move the needle.”
And um, the other thing is to understand that if you filled out a survey and if you came to these community input meetings and then you don’t see your particular issue in the plan, that does not mean we did not listen. These plans can only be built through consensus. They cannot contain every single thing.
So I would encourage people to not be discouraged if they don’t see their particular concern. And if they are a parent or a student or an employee and they have a particular concern that’s not in the plan, please. We have lots of channels. We have Ombudsman at the district office. We have principals you can go to.
We have a lot of ways that we can address an issue without addressing it in the Strategic Plan.
Catherine Schumacher: The School Improvement Council, the PTAs and other channels where you can be involved and be part of the school community. Um, because it really is, it’s, it’s, the schools are in the heart of our communities and, and that’s why they’re so critical, critical to, to Greenville’s and Greenville’s future. So well, Teri Brinkman, thank you so much for speaking with us today.
This is, this is such an important process and, and um, it’s exciting to watch it move forward, so thank you for your leadership on it, and thank you for the time today.
Teri Brinkman: Thank you, Catherine. I appreciate the fact that you are getting the word out on this and that hopefully more and more people will understand both its purpose and how we achieve a strategic plan every five years.
Catherine Schumacher: Absolutely. Thank you.
Teri Brinkman: Thanks.
Catherine Puckett: Simple Civics: Greenville County is a project of Greater Good Greenville. Greater Good Greenville was catalyzed by the merger of the Nonprofit Alliance and the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy. You can learn more on our website at greatergoodgreenville.org. This is a production of Podcast Studio X.
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