Our Blueprint for the Future: Building the Bridge from Empathy to Excellence
When we reach and teach all children as if they had our last name, and when we know each and every student by name, by face, by individual strength and need, and when we lead and support each and every student, staff member, and family with empathy (i.e., to the extent possible—knowing what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes), with equity (i.e., addressing individual needs as they arise), with effectiveness (i.e., the ability to produce a desired result), and with excellence (i.e., achieving improved and noteworthy social, emotional, academic, and cognitive performance) and when we wear the same jersey while doing so, we will be a high-performing team that continues to thrive… Team GCPS! - Dr. Calvin J. Watts, Superintendent
In 2021, the Gwinnett County Board of Education appointed a new superintendent for the Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) after twenty-five years of leadership that built the district’s reputation as a world-class organization recognized across the state and nation. GCPS has a legacy of performance and innovation that has prevailed for more than two decades and directly contributed to the county’s economic growth over that time. Since 2000, Gwinnett has become one of the most diverse counties in the United States, while the school system grew to be the largest in the state of Georgia and the 11th largest in the country. The diversity of the larger community is also reflected in the school system.
With an enrollment of over 180,000 students, GCPS includes families that speak over 100 different languages and dialects, with 24% of our students considered English Learners. Over 80% of our students identify as part of communities of color, including Black, Hispanic, Asian Pacific Islander, and Native American. This diversity is a fact and a strength. Gwinnett County and GCPS truly reflect the demographic shifts experienced across the country, and, therefore, we have a unique opportunity to become a national model of a high-performing district serving an incredibly diverse student population.
Figure 1: Strategic Plan Input
To sustain the legacy of the past in this exciting context, GCPS has developed a new strategic plan – a Blueprint for the Future. This Blueprint defines the transformational work of the next five years, incorporating feedback from the community gathered during Dr. Watts’ Look, Listen, and Learn tour, the Transition, and Planning Team, and the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council. This strategic plan also incorporates feedback from the Teacher Advisory Council, Business Advisory Council, Local School Councils, Local School Administrators Association, Advocacy Groups, and school and district leaders.
The Blueprint synthesizes the findings and recommendations from prior continuous improvement and strategic planning efforts. These include recent Cross-Functional Action Teams (XFATs) regarding cultural competence, resource allocation, whole learner supports, and social emotional learning. The district formed Educational Equity Teams of more than 100 district and local school staff members to make recommendations in six areas - student support, educational opportunities, and expectations, teaching and learning, community engagement and partnerships, human resources and leadership, and facilities and resources. To complement these internal efforts, GCPS partnered with external organizations to review and provide feedback on our work:
- MGT Consulting, GCPS Organization Effectiveness Review – March 2022
- National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA), GCPS Communication Audit Report – January 2022
- Cognia, GCPS Special Review Report – June 2021
- Georgia State University Department of Educational Policy Studies, Gwinnett County Public Schools Principal Pipeline Equity-Centered Leadership Project – February 2021
- University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership, GCPS Equity-Centered School Leadership Summary of Findings – December 2020
- Education Resource Strategies (ERS), Education Resource Equity in Gwinnett County – November 2020
- Cognia (AdvancED), Accreditation Report of the External Review Team for GCPS –June 2017
The Blueprint incorporates some components of the drivers that are still relevant and applicable from the Strategic Direction for 2020-2030 framework. Specifically, school climate and communication are areas that require even greater focus as we commit to improving outcomes for each and every student. The district will continue its pursuit of excellence in all academic and operational areas.
As part of the Learning 2025 network, GCPS is one of 125 demonstration districts seeking to redesign public education. GCPS will shift its culture to one that is whole learner-focused, where each and every child is known by name, by face, by individual strength, and need. The district will ensure that no learner is marginalized by creating school climates where students and staff feel valued and accepted no matter their race, gender, ethnicity, native language, disability, or religion. GCPS students live in a world where diversity is a fact – as evidenced by Gwinnett County’s status as one of the most diverse counties in the United States. Our efforts to be future-driven must include preparing our children to live and work with people who may be quite different from them.
Towards this end, GCPS launched a community-wide effort to create our shared vision for student success – Portrait of a Graduate. The Portrait includes the skills, competencies, and attitudes our community believes are vital for students to possess when they graduate from GCPS. The Portrait serves as the “north star” of this strategic plan.
The Blueprint is designed to ensure our Portrait of a Graduate becomes a reality. The Blueprint will also drive the intentional culture shifts that reflect the guiding vision of the Learning 2025 community of practice. Our Blueprint for the Future defines our strategic priorities in four areas: empathy, equity, effectiveness, and excellence. We know that empathy is key to our understanding of others and to creating a powerful sense of belonging in our GCPS culture. Empathy is a gateway to equity – ensuring that each and every child has what they need to reach their full potential. Effectiveness is our ability to achieve the results we desire. Equity and effectiveness form the bridge from empathy to excellence. Our district will demonstrate excellence in our work – that notable standard to which we should all aspire, behaviorally, academically, and operationally.
Figure 2: Our Blueprint for the Future Strategic Priorities
This summer, our students shared their thoughts on the importance of these strategic priorities and what it means to them to feel that sense of belonging in our schools in this GCPS video: