MET 020620 Rob Haworth

Going forward: Vigo County School Superintendent Rob Haworth highlights the county’s achievements during his State of the Schools address on Feb. 6, 2020.

Tonight, Vigo County schools superintendent Rob Haworth will unveil the district's proposed five-year strategic plan for 2020-25, a far-reaching plan that includes facilities, technology, spending cuts, student services/activities and more.

The presentation will take place during the School Board meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. in the administration building, 686 Wabash Ave. Haworth will ask the board to approve the plan.

The district's most critical challenge is population decline and resulting decreased revenues, yet its academic programs "are far from broken. Our academic programs are excellent," said Bill Riley, VCSC director of communications.

Through the new strategic plan, "I think what we've developed ... is a five-year plan of actionable things we can do to continue academic excellence, while also making spending cuts," Riley said.

A plan of spending cuts approved by the board includes a reduction of two to three elementary schools as well as redesign of alternative education and removing alternative education from McLean Education Center.

"We have a school corporation built for more students than we have now," Riley said.

On Thursday, officials announced that for the first time, enrollment had dipped below 14,000, which impacts 2019-20 funding. In the Feb. 3 count, the district reported 13,968 students, down from the fall count’s 14,190. Losing 222 students will cause VCSC to lose $1,445,220. [Fall count is typically higher than spring, and numbers are expected to be higher next fall].

"We have to turn the corner on our population decline," Haworth said recently. "How can we help be a catalyst, how can we bring people together, how can we lead, in the hopes of growing our community?"

On Thursday, Haworth introduced some of the major initiatives, including eight concepts for high school facilities and Chromebooks for all students by 2023, during his State of the Schools presentation.

A timeline for facility planning will be outlined and it calls for the school board to act on a facility plan in winter 2020-21, with a facility referendum in May 2021. Community meetings will be announced soon that provide information on the eight concepts as well as costs and tax impact. Haworth hopes to narrow the eight options to four by May, and from four to one by December.

Another major focus of the strategic plan will be community partnerships and regional alliances, with the district serving as a "convening body to work on community issues."

Community engagement extends to facilities, according to an early draft of the plan.

"Communities save money when public facilities meet multiple needs and serve the most people," the plan states. "The socioeconomics of our area and a high population of senior citizens supports the need for shared-space facilities and shared-space agreements. After the school day, school facilities can support family and senior activities to maintain healthy lifestyles."

The district will collaborate with the community to provide stronger pre-kindergarten programs in Vigo County. In 2019, VCSC served more than 500 early learners, and moving forward, "We will work with community partners to create Early Learning Centers," according to the draft plan.

The plan also outlines goals and actionable items in several areas:

• In academics, district goals include: meet or exceed IREAD-3 state average; increase student engagement with technology use in all classrooms; meet or exceed graduation rate state average; increase percentage of students in career/technical education programs; increase percentage of children earning post-secondary and/or industry credentials.

• Under student support, the district wants to maintain and stabilize VCSC enrollment by using virtual education; on Thursday, officials announced that Vigo Virtual Success Academy will expand to elementary and middle school students next school year and go beyond Vigo County.

The district also wants to explore new school schedules, and it is reviewing the current high school trimester system.

• Under communication, the district plans to implement "a new accessible, useable website" and have a new brand/logo that better tells the school district's story.

• Under student activities, the district seeks to increase the number of participants in visual and performing arts; increase the number of participants in athletics by improving the quality and number of programs; increase the total number of student activity offerings.

Specific goals or actionable items include exploring the addition of elementary school athletic programming and community club opportunities; expanding middle school athletic schedules and creating an improved feeder system; and strengthening high school athletic programs by having a district athletic director for consistent programming as well as an improved strength and conditioning program.

• Under resource management the plan seeks to maintain a balanced budget and cash reserve equal to 10 percent of operations and education approved budget; all employee groups will have a completed evaluation and an end of the year meeting to discuss the results of the evaluation before July 2020; increase recruitment of diverse employee candidates.

One of the actionable items includes hiring a director of civility and inclusion to assist human resources in recruitment.

Under transportation, goals include improving route efficiency and creating a separate transportation department.

Under school nutrition, the plan calls for creating more nutritious options for students and reducing waste. Specific items in the early draft call for procuring paper straws and switching to budget-conscious paper disposables, as well as improved use of food sharing tables to reduce waste.

The plan includes already outlined spending cuts and timelines for facilities planning and technology integration of Chromebooks.

The district began the planning process in fall 2018, and more than 90 community meetings took place. Committees also were involved, and the school board conducted eight planning meetings.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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