What Big Business Can Learn from a Small School

By Jeff Brunings


In communities like Center Grove, Indiana, the small town atmosphere relies on the school district as the focal point of social life and tradition. A source of great pride, entire generations of families come together to support the school they’ve all attended and loved.

But when the Center Grove Community School Corporation began experiencing deep organizational issues rooted in distrust and poor communication the same community that once rallied to support the district became its biggest opponent.  

Martyred with a bickering board of directors, Center Grove turned over four separate superintendents within a matter of 10 years. Meanwhile, test scores fell to some of the lowest in the state. The community attended council meetings by the hundreds to voice their concern and frustration.

The hire of Dr. Richard Arkanoff as superintendent marked the beginning of a great change for the Center Grove School District. Arkanoff knew they needed to create a strategic plan, but he took an angle that would shake the community in its entirety.

  • Arkanoff invited the community to be part of the strategic planning process.
  • He recruited nearly 80 community members to help create the school’s plan.
  • By listening to everyone’s complaints and ideas, committees were formed around eight areas of focus.
  • Each committee met year-round to build strategic goals for their areas of focus.  

Using OnStrategy to design, communicate and execute the district’s organizational strategies, Center Grove inspired collaboration, ownership, and accountability throughout the district.
Center Grove Strategic Plan Graphic

How did strategic planning and implementation improve the district?

During the planning process a strategic priority surfaced to address the obsolescence of traditional, print-based textbooks. As a result the district invested in several major technological resources for its students.

  • The adoption of digital textbooks was one of the first steps taken by the district.
  • Removing traditional teaching materials allowed teachers and students the resources and flexibility to engage students in learning material, ultimately improving test scores.
  • The district invested in tablets, creating an environment where students interact directly with technology for learning.

A mark of their success to execute their plan was being named one of the top “digital” schools districts in the nation.

What’s the lesson learned?

A great lesson from this story is the importance of engaging leaders, staff, and your consumer, including those who detract from your business. In the case of Center Grove, leadership listened to a tough crowd to better understand their failings and weaknesses as an organization. Doing so created an organizational awareness that, in turn, created a strategic plan with actionable solutions.

Center Grove forged an emotional connection to their strategic plan creating a sum more powerful than any individual. Engaging stakeholders who are emotionally invested in the project will forge a collective, energetic bond that will make strategic plans achieve truly remarkable outcomes.



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