School leaders in Portage will begin developing a new strategic plan that focuses on improving state scores and student career and college readiness.

The Strategic Planning Committee meets today at 5:30 p.m. in the Gerstenkorn Administration Building, 305 E. Slifer St., and it will continue to meet over the next several months. School board members Dan Brown (chairman), Fred Reckling and Connie Shlimovitz serve on the committee.

The district had been using a five-year planning model through 2019. Many of the goals outlined in that plan were met and will continue to be emphasized for years to come, but an updated model is needed, leaders said. The committee expects to have a new strategic plan in place by the spring.

District Administrator Charles Poches said a lot has changed regarding state assessments from the time the 2014-19 strategic plan was first developed to now, thereby necessitating revisions. Last November, the Portage Community School District was deemed to have met “few expectations” in state report cards, though Portage and other school leaders in the area pointed out that frequent changes to state assessments created challenges in interpreting and utilizing the scores.

In a short period of time, state testing has changed from the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts exam to the Badger Exam before being revised yet again to the Forward Exam, Peter Hibner, Portage curriculum director, noted last year. “Cut scores” — the levels districts need to reach for proficiency — also seem to change from year to year.

“We need to refocus because the state report card is not where we’d like it to be,” Reckling said. “We need to tweak things. It’s a process, and it’s one we’ll keep open to the public and involve them as much as we can.”

This year’s report cards should be released this month.

Initial Strategic Planning meetings will determine who will serve on the committee and how to gain public input, Poches said. “In the past we’ve had staff, we’ve had community members, we’ve had parents. So we want to determine who will be included.”

“Really, we need to decide where we’re going to start,” Brown said, noting Tuesday’s meeting is essentially the first of many to come, making it difficult to project specific measures that will be taken. “I’m excited about continuing to develop this plan and to set measurable goals and meet those goals.

“I’m very positive about where we’re at as a district,” Brown continued, “and well aware of what we need to do to always be improving. The strategic plan should help us reach those goals. We’re in a good place, and we’ll do the best we can.”

Preparing students for the workforce and postsecondary education will be emphasized in the new plan, Reckling said. “It’s a tremendous job, that’s the goal. That’s the number one concept for me; that’s the direction for everything.”

Five-year goals met

The 2014-19 strategic plan included research into possibly employing a balanced school calendar, also known as a year-round calendar. Endeavor Elementary led that research, since the school was considered the best fit to pilot a change.

The school board decided in March that a balanced school calendar wouldn’t work well, in part because summer-school programming was seen as an effective means for stemming “summer slide,” the perceived loss of academic momentum in students due to summer break.

Other goals outlined in the 2014-19 Strategic Plan were met and will continue to be focused on, Poches said. They included, among other goals, expanding learning opportunities, highlighted by 51 percent of last year’s graduating class having taken a college course; developing partnerships in the community, highlighted by job fairs and student tours of area businesses; retaining staff, highlighted by the development of an employee compensation plan; and improving technology, perhaps most notably addressed in most students in grades 3 to 12 either having an iPad or Chromebook.

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau

Portage Daily Register reporter