“Wishful thinking” sets strategic plan process in motion

From the Fall, 2013 Andover magazine

“Today’s the day we are really in gear!” And with that declaration, Head of School John Palfrey introduced the strategic planning process at the first faculty meeting of the academic year. While the Strategic Planning Task Force began its work over the summer, the Sept. 4 meeting was the first opportunity for members of the campus community to engage in the aspirational thinking that ultimately will lead to a plan that will guide Phillips Academy for the next three to five years.

“It’s important that this plan be one that we are psyched to carry out,” added Palfrey, with a nod to the Strategic Plan of 2004. The majority of the goals and objectives from the 2004 plan were realized, including leadership in faculty compensation, program flexibility, need-blind admission, and greater support for students entering Andover with diverse academic experiences.

In her presentation to the faculty, Rachel Skiffer, dean of policy and strategic planning, described the future plan as a collaborative response to our dynamic environment. She encouraged faculty to be bold and imaginative, to reach beyond Andover Hill, and to consider trade-offs when necessary. “Even a school that is stable and healthy must adapt to meet contemporary challenges,” she said. “This is not a growth plan; it’s not about adding on, but making wise choices.”

Breaking into small groups, faculty developed “wish lists,” based on issues important to the future of the school, then grouped them thematically: innovation in teaching and learning, wellness and balance, access and reach, and co-curricular programs. They could also suggest new themes.

More specific ideas were posed as questions: How might we set up a global center that supports experiential and interdisciplinary learning? How might we provide alternative paths for seniors? How might we sustain need blind admission in a financially responsible way? How might we ease the pace of life without sacrificing our high standards?

After considering some 28 distinct ideas generated per group—more than 400 among all groups—faculty voted their preferences, and the top vote getters were shared with the full faculty.

Among its next steps, the task force will consider all wishes, ideas, and feedback generated during the Sept. 4 session. Skiffer will then lead the task force in developing a set of targeted surveys for faculty, staff, students, alumni, and parents. Much of November and December will be dedicated to data gathering via these survey instruments.

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