District Goals – Key to Success

District Goals – Key to Success

4-minute read

Four years + four goals = student success.

Focused goals, well monitored, improve learning

Reeves reports that: 

  • Focus is a prerequisite for school improvement.
  • Focus had the highest relationship with student achievement 
  • Focus, with effective monitoring, and adult efficacy yielded strikingly positive results for all students and schools regardless of their demographics.
  • Without focus, even the best ideas, initiatives, and leaders will fail.

The mark of a good leader is that they are better than most at pointing direction. – Greenleaf

Vital Signs  

Needed for success are:

  • Shared goals, focused on leading indicators for student success
  • Communicating clarity consistently across the district
  • Action plans that clearly define roles and responsibilities for action
  • Progress monitoring to know when you are on/off track
  • Open dialogue that leads to mid-course corrections

Chicago Public Schools went from last to first with their clear, consistent focus on effective leaders, collaborative teachers, ambitious instruction, a safe environment, and involved families. 

Dig Deeper into Lessons Learned about Effective Goal Setting

Leading Indicators

We can predict that those who don’t enter school (K) strong will not read by 3rd grade. Those who don’t read by 3rd grade are unlikely to graduate. Those who don’t take algebra by 8th grade are unlikely to get into college. Students who don’t do well in 9th grade will likely fall behind.  

Unpack leading indicators like these. Disaggregate your data.  Act on data to make meaningful changes. Each of these is worth drilling down on.  

Continuous Improvement  

We often don’t get it right the first time. But when we monitor and adjust based on data we get smarter. This is where the “four years” comes in. With time and focus, and intentionality, we can make miracles happen. Use your data to set goals.  Base your theory of action on research.  Create action plans with timelines. Set hard and fast check-ins—and make mid-course corrections. 

Focus and Alignment 

Clear, measurable goals are critical to success. Align Superintendent goals, district goals, strategic plan goals, and board goals into one set of focused goals.  Superintendent goals and evaluation should align with the strategic plan. School and cabinet goals should flow from those goals. Momentum builds when all of your goals line up. 

It took four years in Seattle to line up board goals, superintendent goals, strategic plan goals, and cabinet goals. Jim Collins says that is typical. Marzano says four years + four goals = student achievement.

Board Background and Ownership  

Keep board members truly engaged through the process. Kent School District asked board members to weigh in on “successes” and “opportunities” that emerged from the previous year’s goals. Grow the board’s background knowledge to see and own the goals. That means scaffolding and consistency. Reinforce the idea of  4 years + 4 goals = student achievement. Set a target of four retreats per year, with 50% of that time focused on the goals. Aim for 50% of board meeting content to focus on district goals.

Coherent Strategy   

Creating a coherent through line gives your goals impact.  Show the connection between objectives, strategy, action plans, and outcomes. Strategies and measures must align. Strategies alone (like PLCs) fail without measurement.  Measurement alone (better test scores) fails without a strategy.

Quarterly Review

Sumner brings one of the four strategic planning goals to the board for review each quarter. That gives time and attention to what matters and provides time to go deeper. It allows the board to build background knowledge. Doing this at a retreat helps create a sense of teamwork between the board, superintendent, and cabinet.  


Spokane asks the board to pick ONE of the strategic plan goals to go deeper on each year. This adds to the idea that the goals are long-term. Kent asks each board member to pick one of the board goals to champion. Again, the idea is to develop understanding, depth, partnership, and teamwork.  


Northshore is a Policy Governance district. They pick “ends” (goals) and delegate the “means” to the superintendent. Each month they review one of the “ends” and sign off on progress. This keeps the main thing in front of the board and reinforces the idea that we are all working together. And it means there is a body of work that contributes to the end-of-year report card.


Sumner checks weekly, monthly, and quarterly on their strategic plan. Weekly checks document action steps and follow through. Monthly checks monitor action plans. Quarterly reviews use progress monitoring to determine whether goals are on track or off track.    

Bottom Line 

“Focus together with effective monitoring and adult efficacy resulted in strikingly positive results for all students and schools regardless of demographics.” – Reeves as reported by Kyle Wiskow 

Resources: Learn More

Superintendent and School Board Leadership: A Partnership to increase Student Achievement by Kyle Wiskow on the Research Gate site references the following sources:

  • Dufour, R., & Marzano, R.J. (2011). Leaders of learning: How district, school, and classroom leaders improve student achievement.  Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
  • Marzano, R.J. and Waters, T (2009). District leadership that works: Striking the right balance. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
  • Reeves, D. (2011). Finding your leadership focus: Transforming professional learning into student results, K-12.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
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Larry Nyland – Leadership Coach and Consultant.
Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

To talk about growing extraordinary "high capacity" leadership for your team …
Contact: Larry@Larrynyland.com | 425-418-4398 | LarryNyland.com