Tom Forcella: Greenhouse Project set goals, schools’ direction

September 6, 2013 

Tom Forcella


I am a big believer in the old adage that says, “If you fail to plan, you can plan to fail.”

The responsibility of leading one of the community’s most visible organizations – one with more than 12,000 students and 2,000 employees – in a positive direction requires considerable planning. Fortunately, we have students, parents, teachers and business leaders who are always willing to roll up their sleeves and give us a hand.

Just over a year ago, we held an event called The Greenhouse Project. This was the culmination of a series of many meetings designed to propel discussions surrounding what we, as a community, believe about our schools. Hundreds participated. The product was a new vision, a new mission, five primary goals and 28 strategies to lead us through the next five years.

After countless conversations and many revisions, we have settled on a long-range plan that will guide our work in a manageable way and point us toward sustained excellence.

There is no individual or group who can ensure the success of this plan. Instead, it will require the focused effort of our entire community. We must all be committed to implementing its components and holding ourselves accountable. I recently shared the plan with our staff at this year's back-to-school convocation. Our team, including our Board of Education, is clearly behind the goals and strategies, willingly accepting the challenges that await us.

I hope everyone will take time to visit our website ( and review the goals and strategies. I want our community to see the result of our collective work, and to know the direction in which our schools are headed.

One clear theme that resonates throughout this plan is that of quality instruction. Research tells us over and over that the No. 1 factor in the success of a student is the quality of the classroom teacher. Our school district wholeheartedly believes that … and, even more so, we are committed to serving every student with quality instruction – every day.

The five goals are as follows:

• Instructional excellence focused on thinking and problem solving will be evident in all classrooms.

• Achievement gaps will be eliminated with all students experiencing a minimum of one year of learning growth each year and a minimum of 1.5 years of learning growth for students scoring in the lowest quartile/quintile.

• The culture of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools will be one that encourages innovation, risk-taking, excitement for learning, and personal growth in a trusting partnership with the community.

• Professional development and training will be embedded into all new and existing initiatives in order to sustain successful programs over time.

• A system of accountability measures will be developed and implemented to accurately report growth in student learning and the success of future direction plan strategies.

The plan is flexible and adaptable to change. It will be reviewed each year, soliciting suggestions for additions, deletions and revisions based on the current educational landscape.

Multiple criteria will be utilized to measure the success of each goal. A mid-year progress update will be provided to the board each February, and a final report will be presented at the conclusion of the school year.

As we enter the 2013-14 school year, we also enter into the first year of this strategic plan. We will work on implementing 11 (out of 28) strategies this year. Some strategies were already underway prior to this plan. Some will be completed this year. Some are scheduled for multiple-year implementations.

While we have enjoyed tremendous success as a school district for years, we recognize that no great organization stays great by resting on its accomplishments. We have a tremendous burden to ensure the success of every student … and we have a long-range plan that will keep us focused on reaching our goals.

Thank you to our community for such amazing support. We look forward to continuing our work together for the future of education, the future of our schools and the future of our children.

Tom Forcella is the superintendent of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

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