Results from OISD strategic planning | Guest Column

Dear Orcas Island Community Members,

My name is Suzanna Smith, and I just started working at the Orcas Island School District as the Student Support Specialist.

Part of my job will be to write a regular community newsletter, so this will be the first of many (but not too many). The purpose of these newsletters is to inform you of any exciting and/or new happenings at our public school.

As a side note, I am more than happy to receive requests for topics and/or answer any additional questions you may have, when and if they come up. I will add my school email at the bottom of this newsletter.

As you may or may not have heard, this year Orcas Island School District underwent a process called Strategic Planning, which happens every three to five years. What is Strategic Planning, you may ask? Well, it’s the thoughtful process of setting goals and priorities that link the values, mission and goals of our school district. This plan describes how these goals will be reached through the resources that we have available, using Board and Superintendent-approved strategies and tasks. The expectation of this feedback is a finished plan, with related strategies and actions in place for the next 5 years.

This year, the OISD Board and Superintendent Webb also defined district actions, which will be the focus for the current school year. To gather this information, we hired a consultant, Dr. Spencer Welch, who specializes in leadership and organizational development, as well as community building. Over a 2-day period, Dr. Welch led 6 different focus groups that lasted for 90-120 minutes. These groups consisted of: Community Partners/Leaders, Certificated Staff, Parents/Community members, Administration (Principals), High School Students (ASB/ Leadership class) and Classified Staff.

Dr. Welch has an extremely diverse background in education, which is an important aspect when leading these kinds of focus groups. He was a high school social studies teacher for fifteen years, a high school principal for nine years, the Executive Director of Human Resources in the Bellevue School District, a Project Director for the Center for Educational Leadership, and the Director of the Danforth Educational Leadership Program at the University of Washington.

Over the past ten years, Dr. Welch has played an integral part in helping many districts in Washington State with leadership development, strategic planning, change processes, mediation and negotiations.

After meeting with the various focus groups, Dr. Welch drafted a plan to present to the board for their review at their day-long retreat on Saturday, Oct. 16.

The feedback from each individual group helped define the following: district strengths and weaknesses, opportunities, threats, purpose, goals, strategies and key take-aways. This whole process is driven by focus groups’ input, making it possible for many collective voices to be heard. His presentation was key to the Board’s understanding of the focus groups’ ideals and expectations. With this input, the Board was able to craft a vision and actions/ideals for the district, that its then reviewed and formally approved at its Oct. 28 meeting: OISD Goals for the 2022-2027 school years.

As a result, for the next 5 years, our district will focus on fostering a more “student-centered culture” where students feel empowered in their education and relationships with other students and staff. We will continue to provide “quality instruction” through “purposeful hiring” to continue to create a framework that keeps students engaged and accountable.

The district will begin to communicate more effectively with the community using many different media platforms to “enhance learning and student success,” which will hopefully promote a more “inclusive partnership.” We want to focus on transparency and clear communication with stakeholders through “the responsive and optimal use” of district resources.

Lastly, the Oasis staff is committed to staying current within the program, as we navigate through the pandemic. As for the schools’ district’s priorities for 2021-22, these focus on COVID-19-related issues concerning social/emotional health and physical safety, as well as address student achievement gaps brought on by the pandemic and distance learning. These actions will be the focus of our time, effort, and revenue at this time.

As a whole, this year’s Strategic Planning has been a great interactive process and the district is committed to implementing its new goals.

When asked to comment about his experience on Orcas, Dr. Welch said he “appreciated the thoughtfulness of all the people with whom [he] met. It was clear from all of [his] meetings that — students, staff, and community members — deeply value their schools, and want them to continue to thrive. It was a real pleasure to hear the common beliefs about the power of education. It was encouraging to hear the commonality in themes expressed by all of the groups, both with respect to a vision for the district as well as the qualities that are perceived as current strengths and areas that could be improved. At the same time, we were able to capture a wide spectrum of ideas, which will help the School Board and district leadership to avoid blind spots as they move forward with the Strategic Plan.”

Welch thanks everyone who participated.

“Your thoughtful sharing of ideas will help the district move forward,” he said.

This was an interesting process to be involved in and I, too, appreciate having experienced this worthwhile process.

Again, please feel free to reach out to me. I am more than happy to answer any questions or hear any concerns. My email is