cascade and execute strategic plan

Cascade and Execute Your Strategic Plan

How can school districts effectively cascade, communicate, and execute strategic plans? Superintendent Todd Antony and Principal Jared Schaffner from the School District of Onalaska describe how clarity and alignment in strategic plans fosters engagement across all levels.

The Challenge

The School District of Onalaska faced a common issue: their strategic plan was more of a stagnant document than a dynamic roadmap for improvement. Superintendent Todd Antony, having experienced the limitations of the old plan as a former building administrator, recognized the need for change. The district lacked a clear line of sight between its strategic goals and day-to-day actions, leading to disjointed efforts and limited progress.

It’s been really invigorating to see changes happen within classrooms and see the success that those teachers are having and to see student outcomes being positively impacted.

The Solution

Scorecard, 90 day cycles of improvement, Rounding

The School District of Onalaska embarked on a journey to transform their strategic planning process into a living, breathing document that would guide meaningful action at all levels. They engaged stakeholders from across the community, including students, parents, board members, and administrators, to craft a new strategic plan with clear goals and objectives. They sought external expertise, partnering with Studer Education to operationalize the plan and implement a district scorecard system along with short cycles of improvement and leader rounding.

The Outcome

The implementation of rounding, the district scorecard process, and 90 day improvement cycles resulted in transformative outcomes for the School District of Onalaska:

  • Increased Alignment: The district’s strategic plan became a guiding document, driving purposeful action and fostering alignment between district and school-level goals.
  • Increased Accountability: Implementation of the district scorecard and 90-day action step cycles led to more frequent reporting and discussions, ensuring accountability and progress tracking.
  • Improved Employee Engagement: At Onalaska High School, Principal Jared Schaffner successfully cascaded the strategic plan, fostering deep engagement with staff as measured by employee rounding.

Recognizing the limitations of their old strategic plan, the School District of Onalaska began a journey to revitalize their approach to strategic planning. By engaging stakeholders, seeking external expertise, and implementing tools and strategies such as a district scorecard system, they transformed their plan into a dynamic tool for driving meaningful action. The outcome was increased alignment, accountability, and employee engagement—a testament to the power of purposeful strategic planning and execution.

Episode Transcript

Todd Antony: That’s been transformative work in the district. It’s absolutely led to the district’s strategic plan being a living, breathing document.

[Intro music plays in background]


Janet Pilcher: Hello everyone, welcome to today’s Accelerate Your Performance podcast. I’m your host, Janet Pilcher. Thank you for tuning in this week as we focus on what it takes for leaders to achieve important measures. And today we’re talking about how to achieve important measures at district and school levels when executing a strategic plan. As we engage in this work, we do so because we want our high-performing employees to stay with us and we want to coach people to be at their very best and engaged and connected to their work.

Today we welcome Superintendent Todd Antony from the school district of Onalaska, Wisconsin and Mr. Jared Schaffner, principal of Onalaska High School, and we welcome them to our show.

Prior to becoming superintendent in 2019, Todd held many educational roles throughout Wisconsin including classroom teacher from kindergarten through eighth grade, technology coordinator, associate principal, principal, and director of elementary education. He holds multiple degrees and certifications from the University of Minnesota Duluth, Cardinal Stritch University, Marquette University, and Viterbo University.

Our second guest, Mr. Jared Schaffner has been at Onalaska High School since 2008 and has served as its principal since 2011. The school has operated in formal collaborative teams for the past 16 years with a focus on both growth and achievement, and specifically the school is focused on increasing the number of students in AP courses and increasing career pathway options. Over the past two years, Onalaska School has invested much of their professional development time in improving the use of their Tier 2 resource period.

And we’re delighted to welcome both Todd and Jared to the show to learn more about the implementation of their strategic plan and the execution of that plan through the leadership practices that have been critical to the scorecard success and improvement process at Onalaska High School and the district.

So let’s jump right in to connect with Todd and Jared.


Janet Pilcher: It’s with great pleasure that I welcome Superintendent Antony to our show today. Welcome.

Todd Antony: It’s a pleasure to be here.

Janet Pilcher: So we’re going to talk a little bit about execution of a strategic plan and the scorecard process and a little bit about cascading as we focus on how that work was cascaded from the district to the high school.

But I want to start with you, Todd, and just talk a little bit about the way that you’ve focused on measuring what matters that helps you cascade your strategic planning goals to the district to the school. So talk a little bit about how you applied that process.

Todd Antony: Absolutely. And I have a little bit of a unique experience in that I was a building administrator in the district before becoming superintendent. So I lived the old strategic plan and really kind of had thoughts about how meaningful it was at the building level and how we were living it or not living it. And it was a nine page document.

Janet Pilcher: Oh gosh. [laughs]

Todd Antony: And we very seldom reported out updates to the board, usually once a year. And it was kind of a mad scramble to get our annual report ready to fill in. “Well, what did you do related to this initiative, and what progress have we made on this program?” And it really felt disjointed and clunky.

So when I came back as the superintendent in the district, one of the first things that we did as an administrative team is a book study around District Leadership That Works. And I think the major takeaway from that, and this would have been five years ago, was understanding and talking through what it would look like in our district related to the concept of line of sight, which was a major theme in the book.

So from that understanding and knowing that the renewal of our strategic plan was coming up in 2022, revisioned how to go about bringing a group of people together to work on the next iteration of the district strategic plan. And it was with that line of sight concept in mind.

And we created a document that included work with a number of stakeholders, including students, parents, representatives of each employment group, board members, and administrators around what would the next five years district strategic plan look like and what were the goals and the objectives. And we purposely had someone come in and from outside the district to moderate that process. And we were really happy with where that landed.

But the next question then became how to operationalize the district plan and how to cascade, how to best cascade it down to the building levels. And I just happened to be invited to go to a Studer conference. It was in Wisconsin that year. And ironically, the first takeaway I had that I brought back to the district was the concept of rounding conversations. And that led to me connecting with Studer and talking about what an ongoing partnership could look like, which led to the board approving our work with Studer and really diving into them from that first kind of conversation around rounding conversations to operationalizing the strategic plan.

And so it was our work with Studer then that led to the district scorecard and the idea of these 90 day action step cycles. And that’s been transformative work in the district. It’s absolutely led to the district strategic plan being a living, breathing document with the identification of leading and lagging indicators and more frequent reporting to the board and conversations around that. So that was kind of the impetus for this, and it’s still very much a work in progress, but just extremely pleased with the focus that the new way of conceptualizing the strategic plan has come about. And from that, then the school strategic plans are directly aligned to the district strategic plan.

Right now there’s some flexibility around identification of the leading and lagging indicators, but as we talk about that, there’s maybe some realization that some standardization around that can be beneficial also. But so it’s been a great journey to date so far.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, and so it’s the one thing that, as we talk to people about strategic plan, that’s typical in terms of what you said at the beginning that sometimes that strategic plan is thick and big and sits on a shelf and you dust it off every now and then and look at it and then kind of throw it back on the shelf. But just nice for you to be able to look at it from the perspective of the executive leader that we wanna be very strategic about how we move forward and build those long-term goals.

And then the second part, Todd, of what you said is really where we’ve come in to know how significant the work is, is how do you operationalize that? How do you make that living? I love what you said there, that it’s a living document that we’re continuing to go back to it.

So as you think about how you created your scorecard and you did the operationalizing of that, can you talk a little bit about what were your steps? What were your first steps? How did you connect to your leadership team and manage that?

Todd Antony: It definitely was a process of deconstructing the district scorecard or the district strategic plan and collaboratively then building what the scorecard would look like at the district level, but then doing it in a way in which then each building has their own scorecard that demonstrates their contribution to the district scorecard. So making sure that we had indicators not only at the district level, but then that could be disaggregated to the building level also. And that’s led to great conversations around where focus at the building level might be most beneficial also in different efforts, and strategic planning at the building level is to see exactly where each building is as it relates to the overall district scorecard.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, and what you said too, I have one slide that I used, Todd, and it has what are the key leadership skills and aspects of our work that we focus on, and one of the components that are meaningful conversations, because it’s not just the tool of the scorecard, it’s the conversations we have around the data and the scorecard. And then what you talked about earlier was moving into those 90 day cycles.

So take us a little bit, now that you have the scorecard, you’ve cascaded that scorecard, and you’re engaging in the conversations in those 90 day cycles, can you give us a little bit of a visual of what that might look like?

Todd Antony: Sure, so it’s become a focal point as those 90 day cycles come up that it is the center of the work at our administrative meetings. Both a look back and analysis on current states of things and then a look forward to the next 90 days. And I feel like it’s taken a little bit to find our groove with that, but it feels much more natural now than it did even six months ago or so.

And I really feel like it’s better informed my work as a coach to the building administrators to be able to focus on those things that they’re focusing on at the building level and find real and authentic experiences where I can come walk alongside of the building administrators and observe and provide feedback on the impact of their actions as it relates to the goals and objectives that they have on their strategic plans. So I think that’s maybe been one of the most major shifts in the dynamic between my working relationship with the building administrators.

And I know Jared at the high school is an exemplar on that approach to be purposeful about identifying specific targeted actions aligned to the strategic plan, a limited number of things that they’re working on, and then finding those authentic experiences for me to come and experience the process that he’s going through with his guiding coalition and instructionally in the classroom and as it relates to the professional development that he’s creating for his staff to look at and analyze as they go through their implementation.

So that’s really developed into an incredible collaborative process between Jared and myself and our working relationship and making sure we’re focusing on the right things related to my role in supporting the building administrators’ work at the building level.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, and so nice in the way that you’re positioning that as the leader, your ability to work alongside, work with in partnership as a collaborative partner and thought partner, looking at that data to engage in those conversations and using that scorecard tool and those improvement process cycles as a way to manage that.

I mean, how nice, you know, as we talk and this is what people normally say, “it seems so easy.” You know, “it seems so smooth and so easy.” And it’s not, right? It’s heavy lifting, highly focused, connected work. It takes time to put those pieces and parts together and change that.

And so, you know, as we, we’re going to talk to Jared as well about how he’s cascaded that scorecard and what that looks like for him. But as we close with you today, Todd, you know, just talk a little bit about, you know, how has it changed you as a leader? I mean, how are you a better leader today? How is it? How are you a better leader with your leadership team? And, you know, what has that meant to you from a leadership perspective?

Todd Antony: Yeah, so I think, like I mentioned before, the greatest change that has come about is my working relationship with the building administrators. I always struggled even as a building administrator to find those authentic experiences to invite the superintendent in to observe and provide feedback.

The work of the building administrators, you know, so different than a classroom teacher where you can schedule a formal observation and you can go in and you can look at a 40-minute lesson and have some look fors. So I always struggled with the evaluation, the coaching, the support of the building administrators until we found our groove now here as it relates to focusing on critical areas of implementation of the building level strategic plan as it relates to, you know, how that fits into the district strategic plan.

So I think that’s been a fundamental change in the quality of feedback I’ve been able to give to the building administrators. And again, really focusing on impact. “What is the impact that you anticipate that your planning, your actions, your behavior is going to have on student outcomes?”

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, so good. You know, Todd, so nice and you have such a nice way about you. I would think that the individual leaders, yeah, we’re going to connect with Jared in a few minutes and get his take on how he’s applied it at the high school level, but, you know, just your positioning and insightfulness and reflectiveness is refreshing. So I just appreciate your leadership and what you’ve done to execute the strategic plan, use the scorecard and the short cycle processes to help move that forward.

And, you know, so Jared, we’ll shift to you a little bit. We’ve, you know, had a chance to talk to your superintendent about the strategic plan and the execution and the cascading of that plan. And talked about you as a high school principal being someone that’s really implemented it really well.

So can you talk about how you’ve applied the execution of the strategic planning process and the scorecard and what the leadership tactics look like at your high school?

Jared Schaffner: Absolutely. This last summer in August and we had our building level data retreat, it was arguably the best data retreat that I’ve been part of with a group. And we’ve taken several different approaches with data retreats over my 16 years here, but the most effective one by far because it was entirely aligned to our building strategic plan, there was no question about what it was that we were looking at to measure. There was no question about what are the action steps or even what the end goal that we’re working toward is. It just, it made everything so streamlined for my team members representing different areas of the building and their leadership. And it really led to insightful deep conversations.

And then after that, thinking about who owns this stuff, like, like, where does this go to? Does it go to a classroom teacher? Does it go to our department chairs? Does it go to our tabs team? Who owns the next steps in this? And then a really important piece, how are we going to report out on it? And when we report out, what metrics are we going to use to indicate the direction that we’re going and what we’re doing is having an impact?

So that strategic plan was a, and really importantly, the scorecard, having those two pieces together really brought that together in the most effective way I’ve seen in my time in a data retreat.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah. So in, as you’re implementing, so good, and as you’ve gone through time, are you at a place now where you’re beginning to see results? Have you, has enough time past where you can begin to see like your increase in results or looking at actions and knowing how those actions are really helping you build the improvements?.

Jared Schaffner: Yes. And I think the other thing is it’s really helped us make sure that the actions are—

Janet Pilcher: Yeah.

Jared Schaffner: —in alignment to something on that plan, that we’re not having ancillary actions that don’t lead in that direction. This is really the direction we’re going, and everything we’re doing as a leadership team, all the way down to the classroom level, should be reflective of that strategic plan. And then specifically those metrics that we’ve identified.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah.

Jared Schaffner: And if we’re doing something that doesn’t align to that, then we shouldn’t be doing it. And that has been another key piece is really keeping the focus for our staff on these identified areas instead of looking at a buffet of other options of learning or action.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah. You know, and I think we all work hard, right? We show up, we do work and we’re create a plan for what we do. But sometimes we don’t know if we’re working on the right things and we get frustrated and wonder, you know, “why am I doing what I’m doing?” And hopefully this really built, built energy back into your team. Do you see that part?

So some people ask us, you know, Jared and Todd, they’ll ask us, how do we motivate people? And I’m like, “well, it’s, you know, people are in charge of motivating themselves, but we can create systems and processes and, and workplace environments that allow people to be deeply connected to their work and engaged.”And as leaders, that’s really what our job is, not to motivate people, but to do the deep connection or the infrastructure pieces.

So, Jared, as you as you look at your staff, your, your assistant principals, your staff, have you seen a difference in their connection to the work? Can you see them becoming more engaged?

Jared Schaffner: We’ve definitely been able to really focus feedback, I would even say visibility administratively, all around a couple of specific practices. And that’s been so powerful because if you’re looking for the same thing or same approach in multiple areas, you see it. You can provide feedback on it. You can show exemplars of it. You can celebrate it.

And as we’re starting Spring rounding in the last couple of days, most of those responses to what’s going well comes back to those very specific areas that we’re focusing on. And that’s been reassuring. It’s been reaffirming and knowing that staff are saying we’re better in these areas than we were last fall than we were last year. And this, this is, we understand how this contributes to a better, a more successful learning environment for students.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, so good. So I’ll close with you, Jared, and then Todd, I’ll just open it up to close and anything you’d like to say to summarize today.

But, you know, Jared, I, as you think about you as a leader, your leadership and how you’ve grown as a leader and, and where you are today with the execution of the process as we’ve talked about today and the, and the work that you’re doing. What has it meant to you in your growth, your own professional growth and leadership as a leader?

Jared Schaffner: It’s been really useful. It’s been, it’s been useful to be able to clearly articulate as a building, “this is what we’re doing. And this is why we’re doing it.” It’s been really invigorating to see changes happen within classrooms and see the success that those teachers are having and to see student outcomes being positively impacted. It’s been really positive through our educator effectiveness work where I think Todd mentioned this has been my focus, the building strategic plan, which if you think in hindsight, why wouldn’t it be my focus and that’s a huge positive change that we’ve had.

But then the feedback is all around how those pieces are being implemented. What does it look like? Have you thought about this? Is there a way to connect this to this? I mean, it makes sense that the feedback coming from Todd would be related to that, and my feedback to my teachers would be related to the strategic plan. It just kind of brings everything together in a very succinct way that it’s been meaningful for me getting feedback and then I’ve seen the impacts of the feedback I’m giving in the classroom. And so it’s all flowing in the same direction.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, so good. Your community is lucky to have you as a high school principal. You can tell that and high schools are so important. I started my career years and years ago as a high school math teacher. So, have great love and passion for high schools and in communities like yours. It’s, the high school is huge, right? It’s the key part of the connection of the community. So thank you for what you do.

Todd, I’ll turn it back to you just to provide a summary statement as we close for the day.

Todd Antony: I came up through the elementary school side. So I’ve leaned very heavily on Jared in my five years as Superintendent now to get me up to speed on all of the workings of high schools. And I remember even going back to an early conversation when, through the PLC work, we were introducing the concept of guiding coalitions, and Jared and I sitting down and having just a very purposeful conversation about what a guiding coalition at the high school looks like and what their, what the responsibilities are different from the traditional department chair structure.

And so Jared’s always been a great thought partner around those new initiatives to invite me into the conversation to bring me up to speed, but also to be open to different ways of thinking about things, and like he said, how to connect things. So that’s been a very powerful part of our working relationship also.

Janet Pilcher: That’s good.

Todd Antony: You know just in general I would say over the course of the last five years, we’ve looked at different things that we feel like would have impact on leadership development and student outcomes, and things seem to be slowly coalescing around some high-leverage, high-impact practices, and I feel like we’re at a point now where we could articulate that work through a leadership development plan so that that’s kind of memorialized in writing so that as we bring new administrators into the district and we think about the lifelong journey that we’re on that there is some process in place for ensuring the continuation of this work.

And definitely over the last couple of years, our work with Casey and Studer has allowed us to get to that point of thinking about how all of this comes together and so that everyone is like pulling in the same direction.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, so so good and Casey speaks very highly of you all. She selected you for this episode with great passion for the work that you do, and I can see why. So, so proud of what you’re able to do and the impact that you have on the students and families in your community. And appreciate the time that you’ve spent with me today. Thank you, Todd and Jared. I appreciate it.


[Outro music plays in the background.]

Janet Pilcher: I hope you enjoyed our conversation today. I know I sure did. It’s so refreshing as I mentioned in the interview today to engage in conversations with superintendents and high school principals like Todd and Jared, who truly work as a collaborative team to achieve the right outcomes for students and families and build a place where people are deeply connected to their work. I congratulate and celebrate and appreciate the work that they’re doing.

If you did remember to follow the show so you can get new episodes every Monday. We come out with a show every Monday and hope that you’re connected to us. So in specific on Apple Podcasts, you’ll follow the show by going to our show page in the app, clicking on the follow button, and in the top right hand corner, you can continue to follow us each week.

I look forward to always connecting with everyone and gaining your feedback and seeing what’s important to you and hopefully connecting with you in a way that’s meaningful to you.

And as always, I thank you for tuning into this episode of Accelerate Your Performance. I look forward to connecting with you next time as we continue to focus on our Nine Principles Framework so that we can all be our best at work. Have a great week, everyone.

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Reflect, Plan, LeadHiring and Retention Article in AASA School Administrator Magazine by Dr. Pat Greco