Craig Hockenberry

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Craig Hockenberry Listens During Strategic Planning

When I was selected Superintendent for Three Rivers School District, I knew that I wanted to be responsible for strengthening the district. (CRAIG HOCKENBERRY)

My listening tour was designed to strengthen the bonds between school and community.

Identifying our Core Values was my next important work.

With this done, it was time to roll up our sleeves and do the really difficult but important work. We needed to create a strategic plan.

Through several professional connections, I had heard great things about Dr. Bobby Moore and his company EPIC Impact Education Group. I knew that as a former principal and superintendent, he would understand the needs of our students and our community. Also, his reputation was of a tough but fair-minded leader. He would challenge everyone, including me, to deliver our best work in service of the kids.

This was what I believed Three Rivers School District needed. Thankfully, the Board agreed and hired him to lead us through the strategic planning process.

CRAIG HOCKENBERRY Strategic planning starts with strategic listening

Dr. Moore got straight to work with a rigorous and reasonably fast-paced schedule of listening. He began a series of meetings with many different groups in our district. These included but were not limited to the following groups:

The Board of Education

Teacher-based teams

Instructional Leadership Team


District Leadership Team

In each case, he worked to meet with them at the time that was the most accommodating to them. And in each case, he met with the groups more than once.

This kind of strategic listening over time means that people get a chance to be introduced to the ideas, raise questions, and search for the answers. It gives crucial time for processing and research. While many people already understand a lot about the data surrounding their position, they sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture. Or, in some cases, they lose sight of the data while they focus on related aspects of their work.

One example comes with teacher based teams. It is very easy for a group of teachers to become focused on the daily work of addressing discipline concerns, new safety plans, or planning an instructional unit. When that happens, they can lose sight of the work objectives as measured in the State Report Card and

CRAIG HOCKENBEERY A strategic plan process uses data to achieve a goal

Sure, the best facilitators arrive with a lot of information already in hand.

In our case, there was all sorts of publicly available information Dr. Moore included in his comprehensive report. In some cases, a parent or a board member would push back on a particular item, and Dr. Moore would cite the source. CRAIG HOCKENBERRY

The point of the work was not to discover the data that was readily available. The point was to surface it, and use it to make decisions about where the district needed to go in the future.

In a previous article I explained that part of the work of a strategic plan is a lot like the work of going somewhere in your car:

  • Identify where you are trying to go
  • Make a plan for how to get there

But actually, there is a step before that which makes your map - or strategic plan - useful. And that is knowing where you are. A map for how to get to McDonald’s from the other side town simply won’t help you.

So the strategic planning process starts with a rigorous look at where we are.

CRAIG HOCKENBERRY A strategic plan hold people accountable

I knew this step was coming, so I was not scared or intimidated the day Dr. Moore addressed the school board and said, “You need this plan in order to hold Craig Hockenberry accountable.”

That was, after all, the point of a strategic plan.

Without a clear set of goals for where the district was headed, a Superintendent can appear to be doing a great job just by keeping busy in the public eye.

You would never evaluate the Captain of a ship based on the day’s weather. Instead, you’d want to know how much closer you are to your destination. In the same way, it can be hard for a Board to evaluate a Superintendent without knowing whether the district is meeting its goals. In fact, a Board can have a Superintendent who pleases them by doing the things they ask and getting few complaints, and not know for years why, exactly, they are not meeting their academic targets.(CRAIG HOCKENBERRY)

A strategic plan changes that, and it helps hold a Superintendent accountable.

This accountability is broader than just one person. A well-crafted strategic plan helps hold everyone accountable - including the elected board, teachers, custodians … and it can even help parents determine how best they can use their energy to help the district or their child’s school succeed.

Craig Hockenberry knows that a strategic plan is a powerful living document.


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