Strategic Planning at Friends

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Every seven to ten years, Friends School students, faculty, staff, administrators, trustees, and parents come together to participate in a lengthy process of strategic planning. The end goal is to create a document outlining where the school might put their resources and energy in the next decade, what the school will ideally look like ten years from now, and how the school might create projects or initiatives to meet the stated goals. Bill Smillie, former parent and former head of the board of trustees, offered a helpful explanation. He called a strategic plan, “a direction where ambition is the end state without a specific plan to get there.” In 2007, the last time strategic planning occurred, Friends community members led by Smillie created a document that led to the 21st teaching and learning paradigm, the Capital Campaign to build the new auditorium, and many other programs.  Despite the 2008 financial crisis, the 2007 plan held up, and Friends has reached many of the goals they outline in that document.  About a year ago, Mr. Micciche and 14 other community members formed the next core Strategic Planning committee, a group that has been tirelessly working for the past 14 months to spearhead the project.  After hosting forums and reviewing surveys from students, parents, and faculty about the state of the school, the committee formed a list of the five most pressing questions facing Friends.  These questions are (in abbreviated form): What is the role of school in the 21st century? How can Friends be in, of, and for Baltimore? How can we more effectively share our Quaker values? How can we better meet the needs of families? How can we ensure that families believe Friends is the best investment they can make for their children?  


To help channel creativity and productivity, the school hired Carla Silver and Greg Bamford from the company Leadership + Design to help the committee follow the Design Thinking method of brainstorming and problem solving. Smillie explained that having an outside facilitator is nice because they have, “No axe to grind at the school.”  The focus on Design Thinking is the main difference between this Strategic Planning process and the previous one.  As Mr. Micciche explained to me, “Design Thinking has a lot in common with the Quaker process because it takes into account a wide array of voices.”  In early February, Friends invited students, parents, and employees to participate in a full day strategic planning session with Ms. Silver and Mr. Bamford.  As a lifer at Friends and a student who was concerned about recent developments on campus and in the world, I wanted to lend my voice to the discussion about the role of Friends School in the next decade.  


Personally, I found the design thinking process challenging.  The large group of about 100 people was split into groups of 5 or 6, and each group was asked to design a “product” in response to one of the five core questions.  Tasked with the problem about the role of school in the 21st century, I kept coming up with easily implementable ideas such as how we could more effectively use PLUSS days or how we could change our one-to-one program. However, all of the teachers, trustees, and parents I worked with had lofty ideas of tuition free school, multiple campuses, and required semester-long study abroad.  I expressed this concern to Mr. Micciche since I was worried that the school wasted a day coming up with initiatives that were completely unrealistic.  “Don’t let practicality get in the way of big and bold,” he told me, “even the most impractical ideas get you thinking in a new way.”  For example, the idea of Friends being tuition free made Mr. Micciche think about ways the school could increase their endowment and financial aid packages.  As a very logical thinker, this Design Thinking process was a struggle for me, but for others, such as junior Ilana Wolchinsky, it was easy to relax and trust the process.  Ilana, whose group discussed the use of technology to create a “Modern Pen Pal” system, told me she “liked the way [Ms. Silver and Mr. Bamford] walked us through the process.”  


Visual Art teacher and Makerspace Program Coordinator Mr. Ramsay Antonio-Barnes also attended the Strategic Planning session, and he found it encouraging that, “There are a lot of people that are really invested with the long term success of this community.”  As the maker space coordinator, Mr. Barnes works closely with technology and oversees cross divisional projects such as the 7th grade instrument project, and he also spends a lot of time thinking about the future of technology at Friends. “Technology is not fixed, it’s fluid…it’s a planned obsolescence,” he explaied, “I see our maker spaces becoming much more infused with technology as a way to enhance hands on learning.”  Although Mr. Barnes is focussed mainly on the development of technology and the maker spaces, his outlook on the future applies to the entire strategic planning process. “Students are going to want more out of school, they’re going to expect certain things as they grow up through our program, and our faculty and facilities need to meet that growth,” he said, “I think we’re doing a great job of that and I look forward to the years to come in terms of how we’re growing and the excitement and enthusiasm that the students have for the things we can accomplish here.”  I completely agree with Mr. Barnes and I can proudly say that I am invested in the state of our school and excited to see what the future holds.  

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Strategic Planning at Friends