Chatham County Schools’ strategic initiative, called “One Chatham,” is an ambitious five-year plan with 111 specific strategies used to measure progress toward achieving goals in five key areas. This week we speak with Dr. Amanda Moran, the assistant superintendent for academic services & instructional support for Chatham County Schools, about One Chatham — and to get a progress report on the plan.
Moran has also a resident of Chatham for almost 20 years. She received her undergraduate degree in elementary education from UNC-Greensboro and has a Master’s degree from Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee and a Doctoral degree from East Carolina University.
Moran has served in education for the past 26 years as a classroom teacher, lead teacher, instructional technology facilitator, assistant principal, principal, technology director, chief academic officer, MTSS director, and assistant superintendent. She’s worked in five districts across N.C. including Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools and Orange County Schools.
For those unfamiliar with “One Chatham,” can you provide a refresher overview about what it is and how it became the framework for Chatham County Schools’ strategic plan?
One Chatham is the name of our new strategic plan that we launched in August of this school year. It outlines the direction for the district for the next five years. It provides our mission and vision for what we want to be and where we want to go. It has a set of core beliefs central to what we believe about our work. Finally, we have goals for the outcomes we hope to achieve and the specific steps on how we plan to get there.
The “One Chatham” theme came from Superintendent Dr. Anthony Jackson. From the moment he arrived, he kept saying “One Chatham,” reflecting his desire to ensure all students had the same educational opportunities and pathways to find success in school. Prior to his arrival and before ever meeting him, I had also been working on a theme for the year that would focus on the Power of One, examining the difference one person can make in the lives of others and in improving our community. Over the years, we have heard feedback that Chatham has different areas or zones in the district, and some individuals have felt that these different areas are treated differently. We have seen schools all operate in different ways, which made it feel like we were more a district of schools and not one school district. We wanted this new plan to be about unifying the district and helping us work together on a single vision ensuring ALL our students are successful.
“Preparing ALL students for a bright and prosperous future” — what will that look like for students, and for the community?
Our vision is that we want all students to be prepared and ready for whatever their future holds. That can mean many different things. As we worked to develop our vision, we had many words that we thought about using — “college-and-career ready, future ready,” etc.
The bottom line is we want students to be ready to do whatever it is they aspire to do. For some that might be going right into the workplace. For those students, we have industry credentialing programs and certification programs — what educators once called vocational education — that can allow them to be ready to leave high school and be prepared for the workplace. Other students might aspire to attend a two-year college program where they explore a specific interest or pathway to the workplace.
We are fortunate to have amazing partnerships with the Community College system to provide these opportunities. With the Chatham Promise opportunity, all students can receive two free years of college.
And finally, some students may want to go to a four-year university and pursue their bachelor’s degree. We have programs in place to help students achieve college rigor in high school through Advanced Placement classes, and we have the ability to allow students to receive college credits in high school through programs like College Career Promise. We have some students who leave us with their associate’s degree and high school diploma through our Early College program, as well.
Through programs like Dual Language, we have students who are leaving us with biliteracy skills. We have 100% college acceptance rates through programs like AVID. All of these options are designed to prepare our students for a bright and prosperous future.
During our One Chatham community event, we had more than 200 people in one room working on developing this plan. One of the activities was to paint a portrait of a graduate — not in the literal sense, but the characteristics of what a graduate would look like if they were leaving us successfully prepared for the next chapter in their future. Each group had to present its portrait and explain the various skills and abilities they felt were most important. There were so many creative ideas and quite a bit of agreement on what those skills and traits should be. We then took all those pieces and came up with what our students would possess, leaving us successfully. You can find that here.
How were the five priority areas developed, and why are they so important? (And did you leave anything off that list that might be addressed later?)
Our strategic plan has five priority areas. During the input-gathering phase, we had surveys, focus groups and listening sessions where we asked for feedback and what stakeholders wanted our district to prioritize. We worked with our data analysis team to compile all those pieces of feedback and synthesize that information into themes. Five categories clearly emerged as the most important to our community. Each area is a critical aspect of our core mission of ensuring students are successful.
Curriculum and Innovation is the heartbeat of our work. I am a little biased because this is the area I oversee! We know quality instruction and innovative programs will ensure our students are ready for their futures.
Faculty and Staff is critical because we know that research tells us that a high-quality teacher is one of the most important factors that ensures students’ success. So we must invest in developing our workforce through professional development and support programs. We must also work to recruit and retain high-quality staff. Staff will not thrive in an environment that is not healthy and supportive.
Student Health and Safety was a category that came up consistently in focus groups and surveys. We also have seen growth in mental health needs in our community, in addition to concerns across the country about school security and violence in the world today. We want our stakeholders to know that we take security, health and safety seriously.
Facilities and Infrastructure is a very timely focus area. Chatham is on the cusp of unprecedented growth, and we need to have facilities and the infrastructure to support this growth. This can mean the facilities themselves as we build new schools, and it can also mean ensuring we have appropriate cybersecurity measures in place or the most up-to-date fiscal systems in place.
Communication and Information Sharing is an area that our listening sessions made clear we needed to do a better job in. Parents asked for more two-way modes of communicating. We also recognized we needed to do a better job educating the community about what we have to offer and sharing the success of our students. We have amazing community partners and this focus area also looks at how we can best leverage those resources for our students and the community.
If you look at all the feedback we received from the community, you can find a way to link it all to one of these five areas. In the end we came up with five areas that will help strengthen an already strong district and meet expectations for what our students, families and staff want our district to become over the next five years. We did have some debate about including technology or equity as individual focus areas. As we talked through our core beliefs and received feedback, it became clear that technology is embedded in all we do now. It is how we do business, and it is authentically built into all aspects of our work. Equity is also something that we feel is not a stand-alone area, but a way of looking at things to ensure that we are ensuring multiple perspectives, that we are ensuring access, and we are elevating all voices. That is something that should be a common thread through all of our priority areas. It should be who we are and how we do our work. So we made a conscious decision to embed technology and equity across all five of our focus areas.
How’s it going? How’s it coming together?
Throughout my career in education, I have worked in five districts from the western part of the state to the Triad. Across all of these districts and various roles I have participated in strategic planning processes in every district and each of them was different. This process has by far been the most rewarding and the most comprehensive approach to strategic planning that I have ever seen.
We sought to develop a living, breathing document that would become the guiding light for who we are as a district, and we see that happening already in the short amount of time since the plan was adopted. We have almost every strategy in our plan underway and many completed. Of the 111 strategies we are using to measure our progress to achieving our goals, 72 we’ve begun work on and 25 we have completed. We have also worked to ensure that every board item, meeting items for various departments, and professional development sessions all begin with our why. We try to identify what area of our strategic plan we are working to address and what that goal is. In other words, we are trying to connect the dots so people see the connections to this plan and the things we are doing. We didn’t write this plan to sit on a shelf. We wrote it to be used and actually change the way we think about our work we do together.
The goals enumerated in the plan are plentiful, immense. With any goal, a key question is: how attainable? The scope of all this makes it a very heavy lift. Who’s doing this work, and how? And what’s the timeline for One Chatham?
We will work to achieve these various goals and strategies over the next five years. The great news is that One Chatham really includes everyone. We all have a part of this work. Each of the five focus areas has a main point person assigned who is a senior cabinet member. Those individuals are responsible for tracking the progress of their area, working to manage the various projects associated with that focus area. For example, I oversee the Curriculum and Innovation area. It is the largest area with four overarching goals and 39 strategies. It is indeed a heavy lift. The goals are ambitious. The Academic Services & Instructional Support Division is the largest division, so all directors and support staff have various roles with pieces of the plan. Principals also play a key role in supporting each of the five areas as it relates to their schools. There are some divisions like finance and technology that you will see across all five focus areas. It is definitely a labor of love and a team effort. A quality strategic plan cannot be written or carried out in a silo. It feels exciting to have an amazing team all moving in the same direction toward a common goal that is focused on students.
Can you elaborate on some of the specific deliverables — and, again, what they’ll mean for the students and the community?
There are 12 goals and 111 strategies in our new plan, so it is difficult to give details about each one. The strategic plan document on our website explains the deliverables for each goal, how we will get there and the impact it will have for students. On the One Chatham site, you can also find videos that outline some of the key areas and deliverables. You can find that site here. https://www.chatham.k12.nc.us/domain/2996
What have you learned and observed from the collaboration and workflow on this project? What’s surprised and delighted you, and what’s frustrated you?
As I mentioned before, I have been involved in developing these plans in several districts and I could not be more proud of what we have accomplished. We did this during a time of change and a time of great hardship. We were also on a tight timeline because our old strategic plan had expired, and we knew we needed to have a new one in place by a specific date. We were still coming out of a global pandemic, we had a new superintendent who was learning the district and community, and we also had several district leaders in new roles. The mere fact that we were able to collaborate and complete this by our deadline was pretty spectacular. It all came together sort of effortlessly. The community answered our call for sharing their perspectives and ideas. That collaboration made this such a rewarding experience. It was hard work, but I think we had a sense of urgency to develop something we were all proud of so that created synergy. Again, the community’s desire to buy into this process — to be a part of this plan’s creation — was extremely rewarding, and we were so grateful for that. Things really just came together because we had a common vision and a clear mission.
I would say what was the most frustrating was the development of the goals themselves. Everyone has different ideas about what is a good goal or what is a metric that is attainable. We sought to have goals that were smart (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound). But even that was difficult at times. As the instructional leader for the district, I understand what type of growth is typical growth, or I know what the national norms might be for a specific subject area or where we fall in relation to surrounding districts. So I may set a goal that to someone else might seem like it is too low. On the flip side, another member of the team might understand metrics around communication or transportation that I don’t understand. So we had to really work to write goals that would make sense to everyone. That was not as easy as it sounds. I remember days when we would look at each other and say, “Why is this so hard… It is just one goal.” Then we would have to walk away, take a break and then regroup.
In the end, I think we came up with something that we are all proud of and something that our community can be proud of, and most importantly we came up with something that we feel can really help us be better for children.
How are you keeping track, and communicating your progress, to your stakeholders?
We will have regular Board of Education updates on our plan. We have typically done that two to four times each year in board meetings and also in follow-up community sessions. One thing that is a little different with this plan is it is not a static document that we printed thousands of glossy copies of. It is a document and plan that is dynamic in nature and changes as we progress. We have goal areas that currently have baseline information for Year 1. As we achieve milestones, we will fill in those key metrics and we will also color code our progress on strategies so stakeholders can easily see our progress (green is complete, yellow is underway, white is not started). This helps to hold us accountable. Also, by working to have our agenda items for board meetings mapped to the five focus areas and other training meetings also aligned with district goals, we show that the work we are doing is connected. That kind of alignment, accountability and focus will help propel us forward. Our goal is to be transparent about who we are, where we want to be, and how we plan to get there.
How are you, and your co-workers, being inspired by this effort?
For me one of the most exciting things about “One Chatham” is how it has caught on beyond the walls of just the school district. We see our car magnets on Sheriff’s Office cars and community members’ vehicles. We have other government agencies asking if they can refer to One Chatham, and we have commissioners and other key leaders in our community using this as almost a verb to express how we can be better as a community if we act as one. That is a pretty prolific and powerful thing to think about. There’s a lot going on in the world. We’ve all been through a lot the past few years. There’s so much change coming to our community. I can’t think of a better time to be One Chatham than now. Our future as a vibrant community depends on it. I chose Chatham County as my home more than 16 years ago. It reminded me of where I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina but also had a community feel that I knew I wanted to be a part of. I love the people. I love the landscape. I love the focus on children. I love the sense of pride that you feel here. Chatham has a rich history of success and Chatham has also been that sleepy little district that has been just waiting for the right time to grow and to shine. I truly believe that time is now. I get goosebumps when I think about the possibilities that are right before us if we can truly act as ONE. We hope everyone in our community will come get involved in this movement. Learn about our programs, come volunteer, come join our team — we’re hiring, come participate in our amazing student performances and events. We need you! Together we can build One Chatham for ALL students.