Area residents with an interest in education have a golden opportunity to make their voices heard during the Marquette Area Public Schools' ongoing strategic planning sessions.
Along with a Michigan Association of School Boards consultant, the district is working to formulate a three-to-five-year plan - and they're looking for guidance from the public.
After two sessions earlier this week, a final community meeting will be held at 6 tonight in the Superior Hills Elementary School Media Center. And those unable to attend the meetings can fill out an online survey at www.mapsnet.org until 9 p.m. today.
At this stage of the process, the MAPS board and administration are gathering input from board members, administrators, teachers, support staff and the community. After combining this feedback with a plethora of data about the district, they plan to present an initial strategic planning document to a committee Saturday. This group of roughly 40 people - comprised of district and community stakeholders - will use that information to form four or five goals and objectives for the district to achieve in the next three to five years.
From there, smaller goal teams will be gathered to help work on reaching each goal. The number of teams and their specific goals will be announced sometime after Saturday's meeting.
Anyone interested in sitting on one of the goal committees can contact MAPS at 225-4200.
It's hard to overestimate the importance for the district of having concise, achievable long-range goals.
Last November Marquette residents voted overwhelmingly - by a better than 2-1 margin - against a MAPS millage proposal. That plan sought to levy a 1.5-mill tax increase in order to improve district facilities, close Bothwell Middle School and construct a middle school addition to the high school building. In the aftermath of the defeat, MAPS administration has acknowledged the need to work out a new strategy to help the district cope with the challenges of bolstering education in an era of shrinking budgets and declining enrollment.
It's hard to fault the board's intention in the strategic planning process - trying to be proactive instead of reactive - but we can't help but feel that the planning stage is the easy stage. The hard part will be reaching the goals.
We agree with the sentiment of Jamie Randall, president of the community and parent watchdog group Citizens United for Better Schools, who said he's cautiously optimistic about the new planning process.
He said he hopes it will bring a better sense of communication between the district and the community. As evidenced by past disconnects with the public, that's something MAPS sorely needs.
We hope for a bright future for the district, and we urge everyone who wants to have a hand in shaping that future to get involved now.