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Creating and Taking Action on a Data-Driven Strategic Plan

Written by
February 13th, 2020

This article was co-written with Heidi Aldrich

Many educators think of student success as high assessment marks, high graduation rates, and socially well-adjusted students ready to tackle whatever comes next. To get to that point, however, it first begins with the district leadership having proper alignment around their overall vision, approach, and policies. 

In the case of Oxford Community Schools (OCS), located in northern Oakland County about 40 miles northwest of Detroit, the district decided to take a concerted approach to improve achievement and growth for all students. The district has received numerous excellence awards over the years due to this work.

We invited their team to share their approach to creating and acting on a data-driven strategic plan via webinar. This post recaps a few of those highlights. 

Key Milestones

It all starts with outlining a blueprint of what actions and steps are required for strategic action. A good roadmap includes the following elements:

  • Strategic Alignment – articulating a unifying roadmap of priorities, initiatives, and goals across the entire district
  • Portrait of a Graduate – identifying the characteristics and competencies students need to be successful and the conditions for learning that allow all students to reach their potential
  • Strategic Plan – transforming the strategic alignment into concrete, strategic initiatives
  • Strategy-to-Action – executing on the strategic plan through continuous, incremental work 
  • Evaluation – monitoring on a regular basis how actions align to strategy

Let’s break down each of these factors a little more closely.

Developing Strategic Alignment

At the ground level, it’s important to develop strategic alignment for all stakeholders. This includes articulating your mission, vision, values, and beliefs and is intended to guide the actions and decision-making that will result. Moreover, having alignment will help to inform strategic decisions in regards to resource allocations, particularly those related to budget, staffing, instructional materials, technology utilization, and facilities. In order to start shifting these high-level goals into concrete actions, it may help to also create a portrait of the graduate. 

Etching a Portrait of the Graduate

What is the vision for all graduates as a result of their educational experiences? When creating an ideal portrait of the graduate, you can use a number of sources to gather input, such as: stakeholder surveys, literature on educational trends, historic district/school/student data generated within the site, and requirements of state curriculum boards. 

After determining the vision and direction, the next step is for leadership to transform them into concrete, data-driven actions. 

Creating a Strategic Plan

At OCS, the team identified three main goals with strategic initiatives and timeframes tied to each:

  • Curriculum, Instruction, & Assessment – Ensure student acquisition of skills, knowledge, and experiences necessary to thrive in a global society 
  • Organizational Culture – Recruit, retain, and cultivate highly-skilled employees who exemplify the organizational values of the district
  • School Culture – Develop organizational structures and processes that foster a trusting community culture

When creating your own strategic plan, be sure to revisit your strategic alignment work and portrait of a graduate as you go. Consider, do the actions and priorities match the strategic alignment? Do resources and investments align to the strategic plan? Make sure that the strategic plan indeed encompasses the practices, tools, and priorities needed to help you move from point A to point B.

Connecting Strategy to Action

Your strategic plan articulates the actions you must take to understand student needs and support student success. The next thing to do is follow through on the actions you’ve identified.

At times, turning your strategy into action can feel overwhelming. It can be difficult to maintain alignment and momentum around the strategic alignment with every passing year. But having the right tools can significantly help set your team up for success. For instance, the OCS team relies on Illuminate to provide:

Additionally, the district uses their alignment to target professional development and leadership training where needed. 

Like the OCS team, your team may benefit from integrating your strategic actions with your MTSS or RtI efforts, in order to bring cohesion to your day-to-day work and maximize your collective impact.

Landing on Evaluation

It’s important to evaluate the results against the goals you had set out to accomplish. Here are some example factors to measure and gauge your success:

  • Specific goals and timeframes in strategic plan
  • Data on student outcomes and needs (e.g., academic excellence in literacy and numeracy, improved student achievement and growth, improved high school graduation rates, prepared students for post-secondary options)
  • Data on budget (e.g., are investments aligning to the strategic plan and the areas that are considered a priority?)
  • Annual surveys of parents/community/employees

Each district will have different variables to consider. Regardless, evaluation metrics should always be a mix of quantitative and qualitative. This reflection process should be on-going and regular.


Developing the right strategic alignment plan can set a healthy, strong foundation for student success and high educator morale. Whether you’re working on developing your own strategic goals or refining your data-aligned actions around your plan, we hope these steps provide helpful guidance. 

To hear more about the Oxford Community Schools team’s approach to turning vision into action, watch our recent District Spotlight Webinar.


Illuminate Education partners with K-12 educators to equip them with data to serve the whole child and reach new levels of student performance. Our solution brings together holistic data and collaborative tools and puts them in the hands of educators. Illuminate supports over 17 million students and 5200 districts/schools.

Ready to discover your one-stop shop for your district’s educational needs? Let’s talk.


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