New Albany-Plain Local School District administrators are slowing down the strategic-planning process with the intent of engaging more community members in the process.

New Albany-Plain Local School District administrators are slowing down the strategic-planning process with the intent of engaging more community members in the process.

The district already has engaged one community member, though, to play the role of internal facilitator alongside district communications director Jeff Warner.

Debra Lowery has been called upon by the district to help Warner with the day-to-day operations of the strategic-planning process. She will be paid an hourly rate of $26.80 for her work during the entire strategic-planning process.

"As we looked at the work that needs to be done and looked at the resources that are available to us as a district, the board really felt it would be advantageous for us to tap someone that has connections, that has experience and that has demonstrated a commitment to education," Warner said. "That person is Debra Lowery. We are thrilled she has agreed to partner with us on this effort."

Lowery, who most recently served as a district representative to the Smart Growth Coalition and as a member of the village's charter-review commission, plans to travel to Arlington, Va., next week with Warner for a weeklong training session put on by Cambridge Strategic Services, the firm NA-PLS board members hired to be the district's external facilitator for the planning process.

The district will pay the additional $2,195 to send Lowery to the training session in Virginia. The cost does not include travel expenses.

Warner said the hourly rate is based on what the district would pay a consultant.

"Anytime you take on a project over and above the normal workload, it's usually essential to bring on additional resources," Lowery said. "In this case, the board identified Jeff and then felt that if you look at the number of hours and the types of activities, it should be a shared role."

Lowery, who has two sons, Christian, a sixth-grader, and Bennett, a fourth-grader, said she is excited to get to work on the plan.

"This is the perfect opportunity for me to use my experience to serve my community," Lowery said. "What better thing can I do for my children and all the children of the district than help to see this plan developed?"

Warner said one of the first steps he and Lowery will take is to organize multiple community-awareness sessions to let community members know about the different opportunities to get involved with the district's strategic plan.

He said these sessions would occur either at the end of October or the beginning of November.

From there, he and Lowery will identify 30 members of the lead team, which will hold a three-day planning retreat facilitated by Cambridge president and founding member Bill Cook.

Warner said they are waiting to schedule the lead-team session until members could be identified from the awareness sessions.

Lowery said the district ultimately could ask 200 people to get involved with the planning process through the 30-member lead team and the different action committees that are identified through the lead team.

"We're committed to finding a cross section of community members who have the ability to commit the type of time that is required," she said.

Warner said that not only does pushing back the process allow more community members to get involved, but it also allows the three new school board members who will be elected Nov. 3 to get involved in the process.

Four New Albany residents, Laura Kohler, Tom Lammers, Cheri Lehmann and Natalie Matt, are running for three seats on the NA-PLS board.

"It will be critical that the candidates are engaged in this process, and in just a few weeks, they no longer will be candidates," Warner said. "That is one of the advantages of changing our timeline a little bit."

Board member Mike Klein said the board has left the decision-making up to Superintendent Steve Castle.

"This is Steve Castle's strategic plan," Klein said. "Steve is doing a lot of the leg work."

Klein said it's not a novel idea to have two internal facilitators helping the strategic-planning process.

"It's not the first time with two people leading the lead team," he said. "Whether it's one person or two people, we're sticking to the Cambridge philosophy. We're not breaking new ground."