The New Albany-Plain Local School District's continuous-improvement plan maps the district's activities right down to the daily level, and all parents will have a way to contribute.

In spring 2020, the district will conduct its first parent-only survey in three years as part of the plan, which Superintendent Michael Sawyers describes as a "road map for success."

The school board approved this year's plan Sept. 23, Sawyers said.

The plan was instituted as an annual practice when Sawyers became superintendent in August 2016, and it guides staff members' actions on a daily basis, he said.

Benchmarks include four metrics based primarily on the state report cards issued annually by the Ohio Department of Education, enhancing school culture and social-emotional well-being, demonstrating sustainable fiscal management and ensuring community engagement and "stakeholder" satisfaction, according to the plan.

Sawyers said the plan would help the district continue to improve academically and become the best in Ohio, as ranked by the state report cards' performance-index scores.

"We're on a journey," he said.

According to those scores on the report card released in September, New Albany-Plain Local was ranked 17th out of 608 public school districts statewide -- "a significant improvement from our ranking of 19th the previous year and 38th just two years ago, which comes as a result of hard work districtwide," Sawyers wrote in his recent guest column for the ThisWeek New Albany News.

Meanwhile, the most recent parent survey in 2016 assessed how well the district communicated with parents, Sawyers said. This survey will focus on student services, such as transportation, building cleanliness and other factors, he said.

"I don't think 'feedback' is a bad word," he said.

The district will deliver the parent survey electronically during the second semester, either before or after the spring recess, unless decided otherwise by the school board, Sawyers said.

"We will use the information collected to inform district decisions regarding programming offered for students to meet both academic and developmental outcomes," he said. "The survey has not yet been created, but it will measure the level of satisfaction with educational quality, school culture, communications, student services, climate and/or fiscal management."

Sawyers said the district used the information from the 2016 survey "to tailor our communications to be more responsive to the needs of parents, streamline electronic communications, keep the district Newswire (an emailed newsletter) more high level and then also reduce the building e-newsletters to every other week."

In addition to the parent survey, for the third year, the district will survey staff members during the spring to learn how they feel about the ability to work together as a team, building culture and district culture, and the ability to access resources necessary to meet students' needs, Sawyers said.

Surveys also will include students.

The district will administer a social and emotional learning survey to students in grades 3 to 12 and a substance-use survey to grades 7, 9 and 11, Sawyers said. The intent is to help the district understand students' daily experiences at school and at home and determine whether well-being programming is having the desired impact, he said.

Benchmarks in detail

In addition to examining students' well-being, the plan outlines a way to look at student performance.

Four of the seven benchmarks include performance metrics found on the state report card.

According to the plan, the district aims to:

* Increase the performance-index rank compared to all school districts on the report card from 17th to 16th or better.

* Earn a progress component grade of B or better.

* Earn a gap-closing component grade of A.

On the report card for the 2018-19 school year issued in September, the district received an overall A grade for the second year. That includes an A in progress, which measures growth based on past performance, and an A in gap closing, which gauges how well the needs of certain groups of students are being met.

Another metric included in the plan, graduating students who are college and career ready, includes continuing to earn an A grade for the graduation-rate portion of the state report card.

As part of the same benchmark, the district plans to administer the PSAT to all eighth-graders and the SAT to all juniors during the 2019-20 school year. The PSAT, SAT and ACT are standardized college-entrance exams.

The benchmark also sets a goal that students in the class of 2020 taking the ACT or SAT would earn a mean score of at least 20% higher than the state average.

In 2018, the state averages for the ACT and SAT were 20.3 and 1099, respectively, according to the district. New Albany High School's were 24.2 and 1218.

Although the state report card can be controversial because its methodology is not fully public or completely understood, it allows for the comparison of academic achievement across districts in the state, Sawyers said. Ultimately, it holds the district accountable to see how leaders can meet student needs in the future.

"It's not the be all, end all," he said.

The performance index as measured by the report card also gives the district an opportunity to reach out to other high-performing districts, such as Chagrin Falls, Dublin, Indian Hill, Ottawa Hills, Rocky River, Solon and Upper Arlington, to talk about education strategies that work, Sawyers said.

"We always want to be collaborating and sharing ideas," Sawyers said.

Superintendents always are trying to learn from each other, said Dublin City School District Superintendent Todd Hoadley. Dublin has reached out to New Albany-Plain Local leaders to look at building facilities and conduct discussions not only at the superintendent level, but also at the building-principal levels, he said.

The continuous-improvement plan also includes a fiscal component -- to reduce the fiscal 2020 five-year forecast total expenditures budget by at least $605,000, a 1% or greater reduction.

This is the third year that the district is challenging itself to reduce its budget by 1%, Sawyers said. The amount might seem small, but it compounds when included in the district's five-year forecast, he said.

"That's our spirit of continuous improvement here," he said.

For example, in fiscal 2017, the general-revenue-fund budget was $56,348,999 and the reduction goal was $560,000, according to budget information provided by district spokesman Patrick Gallaway.

Actual expenditures were $53,281,847, a reduction of more than $3 million from the estimated budget.

That trend continued in fiscal 2018 and 2019, according to the figures.

In fiscal 2018, the budget was $60.9 million, the reduction goal was $609,236, the actual budget expenditures were almost $55.9 million and the savings difference was more than $5 million; in fiscal 2019, the budget was almost $62.8 million, the reduction goal was $627,000, the actual expenditures were just under $59 million and the difference was $3.8 million.

For fiscal 2020, the budget is $64,194,634, with the targeted reduction goal of $605,000, according to the figures.

Parent's perspective

Sara Chansarkar, whose son, Ishaan, is a senior at New Albany High School, said she likes all the points in the continuous-improvement plan but believes "the true testament of a school's excellence is the colleges its students get enrolled in."

"For that, a special focus on high school curriculum and activities is needed," she said.

For the benchmark of graduating students who are college and career ready, Chansarkar said, she would suggest the district consider adopting the International Baccalaureate curriculum program; make more College Credit Plus courses available to students on the New Albany-Plain Local campus; require certain technical and academic skills for coaches of robotics and Science Olympiad clubs; and set up more internships and summer trainings with local businesses.