Oak Ridge Schools Strategic Plan 2020: Promoting Achievement and Accountability

This is the third post in a six-part series recognizing the state finalists and overall Grand Prize winner of the Tri-State Best Practices contest.  Our previous posts featured Alabama state finalists Eufaula City Schools and Muscle Shoals City Schools.


Preparing students for college, career, and life success is a balancing act. School systems not only have to ensure they have an engaging curriculum that addresses the needs of all types of learners, they also must make sure they safely transport students to and from school, serve nutritious meals for students, provide clean and safe facilities, keep parents informed, etc.  The list goes on and on.  In short, they must strategically plan to meet the current and future needs of their students, staff, and communities.  Oak Ridge Schools (ORS), one of the Tennessee finalists in the Tri-State Best K-12 Practices contest, is doing just that with their strategic plan.

Origins of the Oak Ridge Strategic Plan 2020

Superintendent Bruce Borchers, in partnership with educators, administrators, and community members, began the development The Oak Ridge Strategic Plan 2020 in 2016.  The team created a district mission and vision and identified goals for improvement in five critical areas:

  1. Academic Excellence:  World class, balanced curriculum and instruction focused on student achievement
  2. Educator Excellence: Committed, innovative and qualified educators the direct link to our students
  3. Learning Environment Excellence:  Safe, secure and effective environment, classrooms and infrastructure that promote learning 
  4. Operational Excellence:  Excellence in the administration, application, operation, and accountable stewardship of our valued educational resources to meet student needs 
  5. Stakeholder Excellence:  A strong family, community and school partnership that values and supports excellence in education

The team meets monthly to review Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that measure the progress on each goal. Each goal has an assigned owner.  The owner reports on the goal to the board of education monthly and reports on the goals to the community annually.  As a result, every department and every school community are afforded the opportunity to actively engage in the success of all students. 

Celebrating Successes and Identifying Opportunities to Improve

ORS students are recognized for successes in post-secondary opportunities and problem-based learning

The ORS Strategic Plan 2020 (Oak Ridge 2020) goals for academic, educator, learning environment, operational and stakeholder excellence are all measured quantitatively and tracked on scorecards.  Examples of quantitative measures include percentage of teachers implementing projects/problem based learning opportunities (academic excellence goal), percentage of teachers retained from previous year (educator excellence goal), percentage of buses equipped with operable cameras and radios (learning environment excellence), average resolution time for completion of staff help desk tickets (operational excellence goal), and number of advisory council meetings held each year (stakeholder excellence goal),   Met goals are celebrated.  For example, students were recognized for being certified in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator as part of the academic excellence goal of promoting critical thinking skills and problem-based learning.  Improvement opportunities and strategies are identified for goals that are not met.  The ORS team identifies strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to improvement in each area.  When goals for student progress in math were not met, ORS reached out to outside experts for assistance.  The result is a best practice that enhances stakeholder engagement, increases organizational transparency, and promotes achievement and accountability.

Why We Like This Entry

While most if not all school systems have a strategic plan, the Oak Ridge 2020 goes beyond what is typically developed and includes Key Performance Indicators, a balanced scorecard, and planned celebrations of success.  Oak Ridge has set in place an effective structure for continuous improvement.

  • Goals are clearly identified and communicated.  The scorecard provides a very clear delineation of goals and whether they have been met. Information is clear-cut rather than confusing to stakeholders (students, staff, community members, etc.) 
  • Each goal has a designated owner.  The identification of responsible parties makes improvements much more attainable.
  • Each goal is monitored, adjusted, and improved annually under the direction of district leaders.
  • Successes/wins are celebrated and keep stakeholders motivated to continue achieving excellence.

ORS uses scorecards to track and report progress toward goals and objectives.

Meeting Their Mission

The community of stakeholders that developed Oak Ridge 2020 created and lives by this mission to prepare each student for excellence in education and the workplace.  As superintendent Borchers remarks, “This Strategic Plan is all about continuous improvement and achieving excellence in education.  It is an important and detailed framework for ORS that envisions our future and sets strategic goals to realize that future.” 

Oak Ridge Schools Best Practices Award check presentation at Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS) Legislative Conference. From L-R: Byron Headrick, Holly Cross (Supervisor of Career Readiness and Communications), Bruce Lay (Executive Director of School Leadership), Sherri Headrick

Congratulations Oak Ridge Schools for Your Award Winning entry.  We applaud you for strategic planning process and execution that promotes achievement, engagement, transparency, and accountability.




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Muscle Shoals City Schools: Impactful Problem-Solving

This is the second post in a six-part series recognizing the state finalists and overall grand prize winner of the Tri-State Best Practices Contest. Our first post featured Alabama state finalist Eufaula City Schools.


Many young people face a Catch 22 when they enter the job market: Employers want experience, but you cannot get experience unless someone hires you. In a continuing effort to provide Alabama students with real world experiences, the Alabama State Department of Education has partnered with the Alabama State Department of Labor to provide work-based learning programs to local school systems. However, in some cases, students were not afforded opportunities in skilled, technical environments due to employer restrictions on insurance of minors.

Origins of the Pathfinder Program

To alleviate this problem, Muscle Shoals City Schools (MSCS) piloted the Pathfinder Program at the Muscle Shoals Career Academy in August 2014. Pathfinder is a program designed to give business and industry the means to utilize trained and certified high school students in technical and skilled jobs. In addition to classroom and lab/shop training, Pathfinder students must also perform satisfactorily in the workplace to earn their high school diploma and dual enrollment college credits.

MSCS partnered with a local firm, Lyons HR to make it easier for businesses to participate in the Pathfinder Program. As the employer of record, administers payroll, remits related taxes and provides workers’ compensation and general liability insurance for all working students. With the Pathfinder Program, high school students may now work in positions previously ‘off limits.’ These training stations and positions allow students to gain meaningful experiences in a career they plan to pursue after high school while earning a paycheck and school credit.

Businesses that have partnered with the Pathfinder Program include Navistar, ECM Hospital, Helen Keller Hospital, Tasus and original program participant North American Lighting

Impact of the Pathfinder Program

The Pathfinder Program benefits high school students by placing them in an authentic employment position for which they have been trained, allowing them to earn a paycheck, and by helping them obtain a class credit. The program includes an acceptance process whereby students are required to complete an application and interview with both the Coordinator of the Pathfinder Program and the business representative. Once accepted, students complete a training agreement and training plan. The Coordinator maintains weekly contact with students and businesses to ensure on-going success.

The program has grown from one student working at North American Lighting in the Fall of 2014 to students working at a variety of businesses in North Alabama. The program has generated nearly $1 million of economic impact.Through the soft skills that the program teaches, employers report that the Pathfinder students often exceed their expectations. They report to work on time and rarely miss work days. They exhibit a good attitude and are eager to learn new skills. Additionally, attendance at school has seen improvements among students enrolled in this program.

The Pathfinder Program has earned recognition across Alabama and the country. At the time of inception, there was no other program like this one in the US. Now, other schools have toured MSCS facilities and replicated this model. Pathfinder Program Coordinator Tiffany Stonecipher and Career Academy principal Caryn Hairell speak at both state and national career and technical education conferences sharing this best practice with other school systems.
“We are honored that our Pathfinder Program at the Muscle Shoals Career Academy has been chosen as an Alabama finalist for the Tri-State Best K-12 Practices Award sponsored by LEAN Frog,” said Dr.Brian Lindsey, Muscle Shoals Superintendent. “Because the program provides students with opportunities for work experience and prepares them for life after graduation, it can greatly affect students’ lives. Your recognition of the Pathfinder Program’s success will foster its growth and help fund its future.”

MSCS students working at their respective skilled, technical jobs through the Pathfinder Program


The Pathfinder Program is a good case study of effective problem-solving in education.

  • Take time to identify problem: MSCS took the time to identify the problem that was preventing students from reaching their career goals.
  • Collaborate with others to find solution: Once the problem was identified (i.e., employer restrictions on insurance of minors), they partnered with Lyons HR to implement a solution
  • Test solution on a small scale: MSCS piloted the program to test the solution
  • Remove obstacles to success: Once it was clear the solution worked, MSCS removed obstacles to ensure success of the solution. For example, the system changed the Pathfinder Coordinator position from a 9-month employee to a 12-month employee so coordinator could stay connected with businesses year round.
  • Standardize success: The academy developed a standardized training agreement and training plan
  • Share Success: Data from the Pathfinder Program is recorded and evaluated to understand effectiveness and economic impact. This information is shared at each month’s board of education meeting


Muscle Shoals City Schools’ award winning practice has taken an employment conundrum for students and created a program that benefits both students and the local economy. “Because the program provides students with opportunities for work experience and prepares them for life after graduation, it can greatly affect students’ lives,” said MSCS Superintendent, Dr. Brian Lindsey. This best practice is growing and MSCS is challenging the community to help it grow even more. As Pathfinder Coordinator Tiffany Stonecipher remarked, I encourage each business that hears of this program to consider giving a young person the chance to be successful. More than anything, I want our young people to see a successful future in their hometown.

from left to right: Sherri Headrick (LEAN Frog), Celia Rudolph (MSCS Board President), Sally Howell Smith (AASB Exec Dir), Brian Lindsey (MSCS Superintendent), and Byron Headrick (LEAN Frog)

Congratulations Muscle Shoals City Schools and the muscle shoals career academy for your award-winning entry. We applaud you for using effective problem-solving skills to create solutions that positively impact your students and your community.

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