By Luke Gentile
The College Park City Council amended and then unanimously approved the city’s 5-year strategic plan Nov. 17, after close to two hours of debate and deliberation.
City Manager Scott Somers, whose resignation will be effective Dec. 23, said that the plan’s 10 objectives and key results (OKRs) are intended to be aspirational.
“We are aiming [at high goals], and it’s ok if we don’t meet them,” Somers said. “What matters is that we are achieving great things.”
According to the council, the approved plan is aligned with College Park’s mission and vision, and will lead to both higher organizational performance and clear communication of the city’s priorities. One specific section, OKR 9 — which addresses the city’s school system — was the center of debate for most of the discussion.
“It is very clear that one of the things holding our city back is the schools,” Somers said.
The strongest provisions of OKR 9 center on increasing high school graduation rates, raising awareness and participation in learning opportunities, expanding parent participation, and improving the school system’s ratings.
Councilmember Robert Day (District 3) said that accessing data on reading and math, and individual school ratings will be crucial in understanding what creates the ratings.
“We should be looking at the county and state,” Day said. “We need data and need to get up to speed to know what it will take to get an increase in rating.”
Councilmember John Rigg (District 3) cited structural issues impacting the city’s school system, including aging buildings and deficits in school funding.
“Funding isn’t everything, but when you’re 40% behind your neighbors, it’s a lot,” Rigg said. “Our ability to influence these issues is limited, but if we focus on one thing, we can make a change.”
The entire council agreed that raising awareness of programs and opportunities will be an essential part of the 5-year plan. The OKR aims to increase parent participation at the start of their children’s schooling.
The city would like to see a 50% increase in parent participation in elementary school PTAs. “When you start parents in elementary schools, it goes a long way,” Day said.
Before the council moved to approve the measure, it opened up the meeting debate for public comment.
Mary King, a resident of College Park and former education committee member, said education is not what the city government is all about.
“[The school system is] run by our county,” she said. “So, I think you ought to stick with things you can actually do something about, and that, in itself, is an example for both the community and the schools to follow.”
The council passed all the OKRs, ending a process that included close to a dozen meetings with residents and an extensive community survey.
Rigg noted that councilmembers and city staff worked diligently on the plan, and summed up with these words, “These OKRs have been subject to a lot of blood, sweat and tears on behalf of your city councilmembers and our staff,” Rigg said. “If we achieve [these things], we will have done something really meaningful and really important for the City of College Park.”