Pine River-Backus School: Board participates in strategic planning survey

Pine River-Backus School Board members reviewed early results of staff and community surveys before completing their own portion of the survey.

School board members identify priorities on a list.
Pine River-Backus School Board members Wanda Carlson and Chris Cunningham use stickers to indicate items on a list which they feel are important.
Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

PINE RIVER — The Pine River-Backus school district had a special meeting on Monday, March 28 to discuss early results of community, staff and student strategic planning surveys. Bruce Miles of the Big River Group LLC then guided the board through completing their own strategic planning survey.

Miles noted that the district didn't have an overwhelming response to the online survey that preceeded the surveys distributed during in-person meetings, but he also noted that nobody used the online surveys to simply badmouth or cut down the district.

The early surveys commended the school for their administrative support, staff involvement, building maintenance and other topics, while the surveys identified a need for improved discipline and communication between parents and teachers.

Using the survey responses, priorities were identified based on recurring themes that Miles and his team saw.

During the employee session, they made a list of things they wished to have included in the final strategic plan. Identified were, in order of highest priority to least:


  1. Safe and respectful learning atmosphere.
  2. Increased pay for paras, custodial, cooks, bus drivers.
  3. State of the art facilities that meet school and community needs.
  4. Smaller class sizes.
  5. Academic, athletic, activity and behavioral excellence.
  6. Well prepared student graduates for college, career, military or on the job training.
  7. High quality school readiness programs.

The community provided its own responses.

  1. A strong trades and/or work study program.
  2. Not having one size fits all approaches. Students are different and have different personalities and ways of learning.
  3. Student accountability: Re — late work, discipline, etc.
  4. Strong student leaders and positive, supportive environment.
  5. A place that attracts and retains talent with competetive pay.
  6. Effective staff to parent relationships.

There was also a small student survey.

  1. On the job training opportunities.
  2. Students feel a sense of value.
  3. Supportive of all students for academic work and life success.
  4. Student driven academic choices.
  5. Honoring and promoting past and present students in their achievements.
  6. Hiring and retaining highly qualified, exceptional staff.
  7. State of the art facilities that meet PR-B and community needs.

These items were used to create lists of priorities and programs which the survey takers identified specific steps to achieving improvement.
The board reviewed the results of those surveys and, in small groups, answered similar questions. The board identified many similar problems such as excessive class sizes and a need for facilities for such things as a nursing station, industrial tech equipment and performance. They identified things they would like to see in the future:

  1. Regional review of aspects like academics, facilities, programs and area contracts.
  2. Larger Facilities — pass a referendum.
  3. Consistent discipline for a safe environment.
  4. Course offerings that meet life skill needs.
  5. Staff training and professional development in classroom management.
  6. Revisit curriculum and course offerings and review staffing needs.

With Miles' guidance, the board began brainstorming ideas including ways that they could communicate with the community to reach a facilities plan, and seek a referendum, supported by the community and how they could effectively assess or measure where the district stands compared to other districts. Discussion also included ways to improve discipline policies and staff awareness of student mental health needs.
There are still other steps before the strategic plan can be completed, but the culmination of the various surveys is intended to create a plan with goals not only for what the district wants to change, but when they want to see specific results. The results should be available in the coming months.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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