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Schools Must Keep Stricter 'New Year's Resolutions'

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Let's have a quick show of hands -- how many of you have kept your New Year's resolutions?

If you're like most people, your response is probably a sheepish admission that your resolve and determination turned out to be as fleeting as a New Year's kiss.

According to research cited in an article in the Guardian newspaper,

"Less than a quarter of those asked for a university study had managed to stick to their resolutions. Of those who failed, many had followed the spurious advice of self-help gurus -- which almost guarantees disaster, apparently."

Talk about a self-defeating prophecy! Part of the problem is that even as we vow to make that hugely important change, we know that everyone is going to ask us, "So, what is your New Year's Resolution?"

And we all know that uncool resolutions are... well, uncool. "World Peace," in this instance, just doesn't cut it. "Going to the gym every day" is too pedestrian. And "losing 30 pounds" says something about what you were doing last year. So, perhaps some forethought needed to go into this decision.

Believe me, many school districts are going through the same internal soul searching. Only they can't forget about their resolutions for the near future. Too much is at stake, and too many interconnecting agendas and populations are involved.

Most school districts are a couple of months into a master planning process that began last summer. The city school district of Syracuse, New York, for example, used the beginning of the school year to conduct community meetings and had provided a recommendation to the school board and city council at the start of the New Year. Their district, like many others, knows that crucial decisions need to be made in the first quarter, so that they can be announced with enough time to teachers, students, parents and community to react long before the end of the school year.

We are well aware of the extent of assessment, data gathering, deliberation goes into our personal New Year's resolution. But what goes into a school planning resolution? As you can imagine, bad information, or limited information, goes into a bad resolution. Before we can make a resolution to go to the gym every day, we should have a gym membership, or at least know where we can get one. Before a school district can make a facility recommendation they need to know, metaphorically speaking, where the buildings are.

Tom Brady, Superintendent for the Providence, Rhode Island school district, taught me a fundamental approach to the effective school planning resolution. He explained that using trends of performance across a matrix of data points establishes a more defensible resolution than limited milestones based on public opinion. In short, it's important to establish a broad set of criteria and measure all aspects of school performance against them. Using fundamentally sound criteria like facility age, condition, repair costs, energy costs paired with test scores, adjacent population, community use and development plans paints a compelling story.

This story can be used to determine the allocation of resources or the validation for closings. In the Louisiana Recovery School District of New Orleans, they are trying to determine the most effective places to spend their remaining resources. Meanwhile, in the Detroit public school system they are trying to determine what resources they should keep open. And in Long Beach, California, the community is benefiting from a comprehensive and well-thought-out planning process.

It sounds simple, doesn't it? Take stock of the facts, be realistic, and let your resolutions take shape according to logic. But life doesn't always work that way. Sometimes we make the most important decisions in a blink of an eye--or with the quickness of a kiss. Of course, school systems have to be more thoughtful and take more time to set their priorities. But like people, schools need to remember how to get back to basics.

When it comes right down to it, to update the song we all remember from the movie Casablanca, "you must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, a plan is just a plan, the fundamental things apply as time goes by".