Strategic Plan Seeks Input From Andover Community

All voices in the Andover community will be heard as the school begins its new strategic planning endeavor this fall.

The 2014 Strategic Planning task force, chaired by Bob Campbell ’66, Trustee, and Catherine Carter, Instructor in Classics, will gather suggestions from students, faculty, staff, trustees, parents and alumni throughout Fall and early Winter Terms. The task force will then organize these ideas into themes and goals in an outline, which will be submitted to the Board of Trustees in the spring of 2014 for comment. The finalized plan will be presented to the board in fall 2014 for final approval, said Rachel Skiffer, Dean of Policy and Strategic Planning.

Students and other members of the community can submit suggestions via e-mail.

“An Integrator”

The Strategic Plan will guide how the school’s resources are allocated for the next three to five years. The plan will not only introduce new ideas, but will also integrate existing planning and self-evaluation efforts in various departments and initiatives.

“This plan will…serve as an integrator for other strategic thinking that happens on campus,” wrote Skiffer in an e-mail to The Phillipian. “Ultimately, any strategic plan is about prioritization, and ours will also be about realistic implementation.”

For example, the Admission Office, drawing on years of experience working with Andover’s international applicant pool, has spent the summer preparing white papers on certain “critical masses” in the student body, said Jim Ventre, Direction of Admission and Financial Aid.

These white papers analyzed trends in certain student groups—different grades, races, athletes, international students and day students, for example—and tried to explain how these groups fit into the fabric of the Andover community. The admission officers presented these findings this week to faculty and administrators in the planning process, including Skiffer, Mike Barker, Director of Institutional Research, Trish Russell, Dean of Studies, and Patrick Farrell, Dean of Faculty.

“It’s a way for us to inform them of our knowledge of where we are in these areas, what we have thought about and where we potentially could be going in these critical areas,” said Ventre. “That effort is to not only provide some professional development for the admission officers who are very knowledgeable in these various critical masses, but also to give some consistency and comprehensive analysis to the composition of the student body.”

The Athletic Department’s evaluation effort is another example of an ongoing evaluation initiative that could potentially be incorporated into the Strategic Plan, said Nancy Jeton, Special Assistant to the Head of School.

“The athletic council was tasked by the Senior Administrative Council three years ago, in 2010, to consider the question, ‘What is the place of athletics within the Andover/Phillips Academy experience?’ So they’ve grappled with a number of different issues there that have to do with programming and personnel,” said Jeton.

The Alumni Council is also undergoing its own strategic planning process, which Skiffer said could potentially inform the greater 2014 Strategic Plan.

“Their focus, appropriately, is our whole alumni body, around 25,000 living alums. Their work and our work, I’d say it is a parallel process, and so we are working together so that they have a sense of what’s happening in the larger strategic plan so they’re not going in a different direction,” said Skiffer.

Community Input

Perhaps the most crucial part of the process is gathering suggestions from the greater Andover community. Through e-mail, in-person and online meetings, surveys and web tools, Skiffer and her team is working to hear from as many parties as possible.

“We really don’t want to leave any stone unturned,” said Skiffer. “That doesn’t mean that everyone has a vote on what the final plan might be because there are some great ideas that we aren’t able to afford or aren’t mission appropriate. But we just want to make sure we hear from everyone, and if there are themes coming up from the community, we want to make sure we explore those deeply.”

Barker is brainstorming various methods of collecting and organizing this information through surveys and innovative new web applications for group brainstorming.

For large-scale research and data-gathering, institutions typically use text analysis programs to catalog and tag survey responses, then pull out key words from those responses, said Barker. While these programs yield “word-clouds” that allow committees to visualize trends in the data, Barker also hopes to find a more substantive ways of processing responses.

After a group brainstorming session with the faculty last week, for example, Barker incorporated all of their ideas onto Stormboard, a program that essentially functions as a huge, digital whiteboard.

“You can organize them thematically, and you can start to sift them around, just as you would in the real sense,” said Barker.

Barker looks to students, in particular, in coming up with new ways to receive input. “If they have particular good ideas about how to engage, how we should engage them, or refreshing interactive ways, I’m all ears. I spend a good amount of my time trying to keep up with that, like what tools are out there.”

“Watch Words”

At the brink of the strategic planning process, it remains to be seen where Andover will head. Past strategic plans have often orchestrated dramatic policy shifts, including the institution of need-blind financial aid as a result of the 2004 plan and the significant improvement of student residential life after the 1993 plan, said Jeton.

This time around, “‘Innovation’ is a big watch word,” Jeton said, noting that one of the considerations when the Board of Trustees appointed Head of School John Palfrey was his track record in innovation.

“The big emphasis right now is innovation in teaching. It’s an amazing time, with all the impact of digital tools. Education reform is happening across the world and across the nation,” Jeton continued.

Wellness may also be a potential theme for the Strategic Plan, especially with the construction of the new Wellness Center on Salem Street in 2014 and the faculty meeting last spring to discuss student exhaustion, according to a March 7 article in The Phillipian.

“People are justifiably focused on keeping people healthy, and having them live a balanced life, caring for each other, caring for ourselves, being responsible for one’s actions. And so you’re going to start seeing threads of that coming through the strategic planning process,” said Jeton.