Superintendent of Schools Stephen Tomlinson kicked off the first meeting of the Innovate 2.0 Committee on Jan. 12 by showing the video from the district’s first strategic plan, “Innovate,” published in 2016. When the video finished playing, Tomlinson pointed out the overwhelming focus of the video: Children. He reminded committee members that children are the reason for the committee’s work, and encouraged them to approach the work with a mindset of “no barriers.”
After introducing members of the Board of Education and leadership team, Tomlinson reviewed expectations, telling the committee members what they could expect from the district (an organized process, over-communication, transparency and honesty, a timely summary of forum discussions, and an easy-to-read final product), and what was expected of them (honest feedback from the school community). He encouraged committee members to talk about their work and get feedback from their children, their neighbors, and their employers.
Tomlinson then introduced high school English teacher Kristina Marshall, who is assisting with the committee as part of her administrative internship. Marshall encouraged committee members to use their phones to respond to an instant poll question: “What is your connection to B-P?” Responses included parents, alumni, teachers, students, retired employees, and community members, among others.
Tomlinson proceeded to give an overview of the district’s mission and core values, followed by his philosophy of continuous improvement. He underscored the value of long-range planning since so many changes or enhancements take more than a single year to achieve. He also spoke of his belief in the value and importance of engaging members of the community in discussions about long-range planning.
Committee members then responded to another instant poll: “In one word, describe what you want B-P to be.” Responses included successful, purposeful, futuristic, diverse, inclusive, leader, evolving, independent, courageous, effective, and excellent.
B-P at a Glance
During the next portion of the presentation, Tomlinson provided committee members with a high-level overview of the district, starting with the following information:
- Member of HFM BOCES
- 11,500 residents
- 83 square miles in three counties
- Encompasses parts of nine towns
- Two campuses
- Elementary school is the original Perth campus and secondary school is the original Broadalbin campus
- 322 full-time employees, including 157 teachers
- Approximately 52% of employees are district residents
The next slide showed the total district enrollment from the 2016-17 through 2022-23 school years. During that time, B-P’s total enrollment has decreased by about 100 students, or about 5%. This is consistent with enrollment in public schools statewide as New York’s total population has declined.
On the next two slides, Tomlinson showed elementary and secondary enrollment by grade level from the 2016-17 through the 2022-23 school years. Enrollment numbers are color coded on both charts to show cohorts of students. Tomlinson pointed out that, in general, enrollment in a cohort tends to increase through the elementary years and then decrease from grade 7 through grade 12. He noted that state law requires a school district to periodically conduct an enrollment study that uses live-birth data to predict future enrollment. The enrollment study conducted as part of the district’s first strategic plan was relatively accurate compared with actual enrollment numbers.
Next, committee members saw a high-level overview of the district’s finances over the past five years. Tomlinson pointed out that the district has rarely proposed budgets that require going to Broadalbin-Perth’s calculated tax “cap” and, in each of the past two years, the tax levy increase was less than 1%. He then showed a graphic of the district’s true-value tax rates over the past decade, which have been going down. Tomlinson attributed that to the growth in property value within the school district. Compared with other districts in the HFM BOCES region, Broadalbin-Perth has one of the lowest true-value tax rates.
Finally, Tomlinson reviewed the district’s spending per student during the four-year period of 2018-19 through 2021-22. Although the district’s per-pupil spending has increased to $17,008 during that time, it remains below the county average of $19,096 and the statewide average of $23,468.
At the conclusion of this section of the presentation, committee members took out their phones to answer another instant poll question: “In two or three words, what do our students need to be successful?” Responses included guidance, support, opportunity, compassion, drive, critical thinking skills, positive culture, acceptance, positive role models, creativity, grit, caring teachers, interpersonal skills, and trust.
Revisiting 2028 and Innovate
Tomlinson took a few minutes to tell the committee about Broadalbin-Perth’s history with strategic planning. When B-P first engaged the community in strategic planning during the 2014-15 school year, the district had just enrolled its first class of full-day pre-K students — members of the Class of 2028. That class became a touchstone of the committee at the time: “What should a B-P education look like in the year 2028?” Members of that class are now in seventh grade. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, planning for Innovate 2.0 was delayed. But, Tomlinson noted that, in a quirk of fate, the plan developed by the Innovate 2.0 committee will conclude in 2028.
Finally, Tomlinson held up a copy of the original “Innovate” plan published in 2016. He asked committee members if any of them still had a copy of the plan, which was mailed to all households in the district, and was gratified to see several hands raised. He then reviewed each of the six overarching goals in “Innovate.”
In a light-hearted transition, Marshall asked participants to respond to one last instant poll question: “What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?” She then turned things over to Director of Human Resources and Communications Michele Kelley, who introduced the evening’s small group activity: Mind mapping.
Kelley explained that each group would be focused on the same guiding question: “What areas do you believe Broadalbin-Perth should focus on over the next five years? Why?” She told them that each group would gather around a table covered in a large, white piece of paper on which they would write their ideas, and react and respond to others’ ideas using words of their own, checkmarks if they agreed with an idea, or Xes if they disagreed.
Groups were pre-assigned, with group numbers printed on committee members’ nametags. The first groups were homogenous, with secondary teachers grouped together, elementary parents grouped together, and so on. After 20 minutes of discussion, participants were to move to their second groups, which were more diverse. After another 20 minutes of discussion, participants were to move to their third and final groups. Each table had a pre-selected “anchor” who remained at the table, took notes on the discussion, and helped subsequent groups make sense of the mind maps left by prior groups.
Kelley then showed an example of what a mind map might look like for a discussion about the best flavors of ice cream, including how the mind map might grow with ideas and reactions from people in subsequent groups.
Before sending participants to their first tables to start the exercise, Kelley reminded committee members that they were not looking for consensus and that everyone should be respectful of others’ ideas. She also asked for their help in making sure everyone had a chance to speak and instructed them to reconvene in the auditorium after the activity concluded.
Reporting Out and Next Steps
When the committee members returned to the auditorium after the activity, they responded to one final instant poll question: “What is one idea that you talked about or heard tonight that excites you the most?” Responses included expansion of Patriot Academy, varsity jackets for the arts, skilled trades training, increased focus on employment readiness, building life skills, increasing community-based service opportunities for students, increasing course offerings by using online resources, and increased mental and emotional support for students.
Tomlinson then reviewed the next steps, including asking committee members to send any additional ideas or feedback about the activity to Kelley via email, and confirmed the next committee meeting will be held Thursday, Feb. 9.