How strategic plan goals vary in urban, rural and suburban school districts

See which strategic plan priorities are most prominent in rural school districts and which get more attention in urban and suburban systems.

School leaders, regardless of location, are grappling with many of the same issues—bad behavior, staff shortages and chronic absenteeism, among others—but that doesn’t mean K12 strategic plan goals are carbon copies of each other. In fact, strategic plan goals vary depending on whether schools serve urban, rural or suburban school communities.

The National Center for Education Statistics tracks schools based on four geographic locale classifications: urban, suburban, town or and rural. And location has a big impact on how leaders craft their strategic plan goals, according to an analysis by Burbio, a K12 data tracking and research website.

For instance, the phrase “community engagement” appears more often in the strategic plans set by urban districts and is least prominent in rural school systems, revealing a difference of about 15 percentage points. Chronic absenteeism was also more likely to be addressed by urban districts than by all other school systems.

More from DA: Several superintendents step down after short stays in their district

On the other hand, rural districts’ strategic plans focus on career and technical education more heavily than districts in more populous communities. CTE is least prominent in suburban districts, Burbio found. Mental health is most prevalent in suburban strategic plan goals.

Earlier this year, Burbio examined the most popular overall topics in strategic plans, including which areas leaders are focusing on more heavily. Social-emotional learning was covered in about 25% of the 2018-19 strategic plans, peaked in 2021 at 42% and is now a key term in about 30% of 2,200 of the plans that Burbio analyzed.

The most common topic was attendance, which appeared in just more than half of the plans tracked by Burbio while multitiered system of support and mental health showed the largest growth as strategic plan priorities.

District Administration’s Get on Board series allows superintendents and other experts to share ideas for creating and maintaining productive relationships with school board members.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is 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.

Most Popular