Five years from now, the South Washington Schools want to be recognized for their academic achievement nationally.

The road map on how to get there was approved by the district school board this month as part of its 2016 strategic plan, dubbed "Pathway to Excellence."

"This was a chance for us to review what has been accomplished but also to establish a pathway for the next five years," said Superintendent Mark Porter. "I think we had been guided well, but I also knew we needed to revisit, revise and recalibrate some of our efforts looking ahead."

Porter said the new strategic plan gives the district more concrete goals and is narrower in focus.

The plan has six "strategic objectives" that include academic goals, district-wide culture and diversity among staff.

The district tasked 41 people -- half from the community and half of whom were district employees -- with developing the plan.

After several revisions, the administration proposed a completed plan to the board for approval on June 16.

It includes a new mission statement for the district: "Develop learners into critical thinkers, achieving proficiency, continuous growth and lifelong success."

That includes preparing students for college and careers, Porter said.

"It's what we owe our students today," Porter said. "The research is pretty clear that in order for students to have opportunities, they have to be college-ready. The misinterpretation is that we're funneling students to attend four-year universities, but we feel all students should have that option or opportunity if they select that in their pathway."

As part of the plan, the district created its own report card in order to better track student progress. The report card, called "VisionCard," will test student progress and achievement each year by using state, national and international standards. The district hopes, on a scale from one to five, all of its students will have scored at least a four by 2016.

Porter said despite budget cuts from the state, the district needs to make hard decisions on where to cut in order to be innovative in the classroom and add newer technology.

"We can't continue to teach and deliver services in the same way and then also add on to those services," Porter said. "We need to somehow find things to quit doing."

The district is also looking to recruit more staff members from diverse backgrounds to pair with the growing diversity among its student body.

"Our perspective is to hire the best person in each and every opportunity," he said. "But we need to be intentional in finding highly qualified, diverse candidates, too."

The district has created its own Teacher Cadet program which guides minority students toward teaching careers and encourages them to come back to the district to teach.

"We've said all along that we're good and that we can be described as very good," Porter said. "But I think this will lead us to a level of excellence. If we can be attentive to the plan and maintain our focus I think we'll be a school district not just recognized by ourselves but also recognized across the state and nation."

To view the entire plan, visit

Daarel Burnette II • 651-735-1695 Twitter: @DaarelStrib