5-year promise: How one leader steers her strategic plan

"When we present something going on in the district and link it to the strategic plan, that’s how we keep it alive and in front of the families," Superintendent Rachel Monárrez says.

Worcester Public Schools’ new strategic plan is more than just a road map for Superintendent Rachel Monárrez. It represents a “five-year promise” to the community for how the Massachusetts district is preparing students to meet the future.

Rachel Monárrez
Rachel Monárrez

The strategic plan’s six priorities are a presence whenever Monárrez meets with community groups, the school committee or other stakeholders. “When go into our schools, you see evidence of it,” explains Monárrez, who took the helm in July 2022 after serving as a deputy superintendent in San Bernardino City Unified School District in California.

“When we present something going on in the district and link it to the strategic plan, that’s how we keep it alive and in front of the families,” she adds.

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The six priorities are equitable resources and educational programs, family and community engagement, culture and climate, acquiring and retaining talent, health and wellness, and modernized and safe facilities. Within those pillars are dozens of goals and more than 50 key performance indexes.

The development of the strategic plan was driven by the hundreds of community meetings Monárrez began holding as soon as she became superintendent. At each event, she asked three questions: What are the district’s strengths? Where are the opportunities for improvement? And what would people do if they were her?

Worcester’s strategic plan is also grounded in its carefully crafted Vision of a Learner, which defines the skills and dispositions students will have when they graduate from Worcester Public Schools. The Vision states each student will be a problem solver, a curious learner, an empowered individual, an effective communicator and an engaged community member.

The initiative lays out the daily learning experiences students will have, from preschool to their senior years. For instance, the communication skills seventh graders will demonstrate are different than what’s expected from a high school junior as far as the complexity of their written and spoken language.

A key to success is ensuring students are fully versed in the Vision of a Learner so they are setting goals for themselves, monitoring those goals and engaging in continuous improvement. “The strategic plan was written for the adults in the schools, it’s about where we’re going as a district,” she notes. “The vision of the learner is for the families. It’s what they need to be tracking—the experiences that children are having that relate to our vision and where we are missing it.”

Learning at the ‘Spark academy’

An example of the Vision of a Learner in action is the Spark Initiative, which has fully transformed Wawecus Road Elementary School into a truly future-ready building that the district calls a “Spark academy,” Monárrez points out. The Spark in the name stands for “sparking curiosity” with hands-on projects and collaboration.

As part of the initiative, Monárrez expanded the role of the district’s director of educational technology to also serve as the school’s principal. The principal and the school’s educators are integrating technology into the core content and one classroom has been converted into a makerspace.

The PD these teachers receive is also being offered to teachers at other Worcester schools to spread the Spark philosophy. “Classrooms should only be quiet when children are taking an assessment,” Monárrez contends. “Learning is social—children learn from adults and each other.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is the managing editor of District Administration and a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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