Opening moves, foundational questions …

Strategic planning is the process by which an organization declares its identity, claims its future, and charts its journey toward realizing that future. This sounds simple, as if a few surveys, a folder full of Google docs, and a weekend retreat will get you there.

But comprehensive strategic planning is difficult and complicated work.
Our master timeline (Figure 1) divides the process into three distinct phases, each matching one of the purposes of the process. This month, we’re engaged in activities in the first phase, to answer foundational questions toward the crafting of a new mission statement.

Figure 1: Our strategic planning master timeline involves looking back to move forward.

Foundational questions. We’re asking: What is Hunterdon Central, and what does it mean to be a Red Devil?

Staff, students, and community members have been chewing on these questions in one way or another for the past couple of months. We begin by digging into our existing mission statement, and mining what we can in the way of core values — characteristics that we want to remember as we develop our new mission statement.

So far, surveys of staff have identified five characteristics: ethical, responsible, caring, collaborative, and engaged. We imagine our students, empowered to make choices along individual trajectories, learning about themselves and their world through the development and exercise of these characteristics.

Additional work with staff revealed seven behaviors that, in different proportions, contribute to these characteristics. See Figure 2, below. The darker the red, the more often we received descriptions of that kind of behavior in response to the question: What do these characteristics (ethical, responsible, etc.) look like in your classroom?

Figure 2: Seven behaviors, in different proportions, write the recipes of five core characteristics. A cup of focus, two tablespoons of intention, and a pinch of respect …

This is a snapshot of work that’s still underway, so this matrix of characteristics and behaviors is likely going to go through a few revisions before it’s done. The mix of behaviors under each characteristic will change as we engage broader groups of people with the question. Also, we continue to ask where curiosity, risk-taking, and assertiveness fit into all of this. And, as definitions, these behavioral “genomes” aren’t complete. I don’t yet have Hunterdon Central’s tight sentence to define “collaboration,” but I can tell you that intention, tolerance, and respect are very important ingredients. That’s a start to building the profiles and theories of action that’ll be crucial to the development of our new mission statement.

But the work at this stage is messy, leaving us with convoluted maps. See Figure 3, below, for the result of a recent focus group. Our next step with a puzzle like this: hammer it into shape, share it out for feedback, adjust, share again, adjust, lather, rinse, repeat.

Figure 3: Summarizing strategic planning conversations can be … tricky.

This is the work that Hunterdon Central needs to do, that all schools need to do. I can say with certainty that the folks who work here are eager to do that work.

They’re also skilled, passionate, and engaged to uncommon degrees — more than enough to bring it all to life in our classrooms and labs, in our studios, on our stages, and throughout our community.

Check back soon for updates on our strategic planning process. If you’d like to get involved, please reach out!