The Best Campus Improvement Plans Follow A Simple Recipe

Why More Is Not Always More

In a recent attempt to add more fresh and healthy foods to my diet, I decided to try my hand at making smoothies. It was a fun and fruitful experience, but there were a few things I had to learn the hard way. (When it comes to kale, sometimes less is more.)

In a way, learning to make a delicious smoothie is a lot like learning to create a successful campus improvement plan (CIP). Whether your goal is to eat more fruits and vegetables or help more students excel, it’s important to find a recipe that works, follow the steps, and avoid the temptation to overdo it. Here are a few tips to help you mix up the perfect plan for your campus.

1. Don't add too many ingredients.

After I bought my first heavy-duty blender, I did a quick Google search and found a flood of simple recipes, all promising to turn me into the Queen of Smoothies. I tried many, and felt quite powerful adding more fruits and vegetables to my diet. There was something really satisfying about watching that blender whirl while creating a tasty infusion totally unlike any of the raw ingredients. My confidence grew, and my inexperience caused me to modify the recipes. If the recipe called for two cups of kale or spinach, I decided three would be better. If one apple is good, two should be first-rate, right?

What I quickly discovered, however, was that no matter how healthy the ingredients were, adding too much didn’t make the smoothie better. My blender would grind, churning out rough chunks of fruits and vegetables, or stop working altogether. My smoothies had a sick gray color and tasted like something a group of junior high boys made for a game of Truth or Dare. It was only when I went back to the recipes, especially those with great ratings and reviews, that I could produce smoothies that actually tasted good.

The same principle applies to CIPs. As you search for ways to improve your campus, you may find many ideas you wish to try – and they may be very good ideas, too. However, including too many strategies or activities causes the whole school to groan under the heaviness of initiative overload. The school may even stop moving forward at all. A CIP with a sharp focus and a few targeted, well-thought-out initiatives, is more effective than one with so many strategies, there is no hope of achieving them all.

2. Don't leave key ingredients out.

What’s worse than too many ingredients? Not enough. A CIP with a weak or unorganized focus causes the school to flow in a disorderly, erratic fashion, akin to what happens when the blender jerks suddenly, and overflows onto the cabinet.

3. Follow the Recipe.

There’s a reason some recipes get five stars, and others have just a few. The five-star recipes work—and they have the results to prove it. To improve student achievement, the school must collectively commit to a sharply-focused, carefully-crafted recipe: their campus improvement plan. While no one recipe works for all schools (if only improving schools was that easy!), there are four common components found in successful CIPs. They are:

  1. The Vision and Mission
  2. The Comprehensive Needs Assessment
  3. The Goals, Performance Objectives, and Strategies
  4. The Evaluation

While all four play a significant role in the cycle of school improvement, the focus of this blog is on the first three.

Follow Your Vision

The first component of a successful CIP is the Vision and Mission. Your campus vision should vision answer the question, “Where do we want to be?” In his book, Improving Schools from Within (1990), author and former Harvard professor, Roland Barth, reasons that “unless staff members commit to a shared vision for creating a great school, they invite outsiders to mandate random changes for them.”

It is crucial that professionals who know students firsthand be the generators of a truly compelling vision. The vision validates the factors that influence the school’s quality of teaching and learning. When the data reflects the status of areas such as demographics, perceptions, student learning, and school processes, the school’s comprehensive story can be told. Inspecting this data story while overlaying it with the school’s vision allows staff members to determine how each of the four areas contributes to the success of the school. Sometimes, making improvements in even one area can improve the status of several needs.

Develop Your Comprehensive Needs Assessment (CNA).

The second component is an analysis of the school’s current status through a comprehensive needs assessment. Until a school can clearly explain their strengths and needs – including the root causes for their needs – impactful, sustainable improvement cannot occur. According to Dr. Victoria L. Bernhardt, Executive Director of the Education for the Future Initiative, the comprehensive needs assessment answers the following questions.

  1. “Where are we now?”
  2. “How did we get where we are?”

Both of these questions are best answered through the lens of school vision.

Use the BEST Strategies.

After the comprehensive needs assessment is in place, the school is ready to address its goals through performance objectives and strategies. The goals are set by the district, and they are usually bold statements of desired results designed to span more than one school year. Each school accepts these district goals as their own and sets performance objectives and strategies under them.

The development of unique performance objectives and strategies is how the school declares its role and responsibilities in creating a district-aligned, PreK-12 environment of successful learning. These performance objectives and strategies also focus the broadness of the district goals for front-line school actions. Strategies detail the mission-critical, courageous actions that the school has agreed to take in order to solve and remove the root causes of identified needs. Strategies are limited in number and contain the greatest solution-driven thinking possible. An easy way to strengthen the potential effectiveness of strategies is by ensuring they are BEST strategies:

  • B – Bold and beyond current status actions
  • E – Evidence of research-based effectiveness – available and confirmed
  • S – Specific details: Who (leader and implementation team), What (actions and resources needed), When, Where and Why (expected impact)
  • T – Tied to one or more needs identified in the comprehensive needs assessment

Set SMART Objectives.

Developing BEST Strategies to solve the identified needs sounds easy. Unfortunately, it’s often not a simple task. The world of education is flooded with programs, materials, and teaching methods all promising to be the key to increasing student achievement. When building the campus improvement plan, how do we know which options to choose? SMART Performance Objectives are the key. Make sure your objectives are:

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable
  • A – Achievable
  • R – Realistic
  • T – Time-bound


SMART Objectives measure the gap between the current status, described in the needs and how much progress a school desires to make in one school year. When performance objectives are written using the SMART format, clarity increases, making it easier to select the most appropriate BEST Strategies. Achieving SMART Performance Objectives through the implementation of BEST strategies creates a tight alignment that should strongly support the achievement of goals.

Make Every CIP Count.

Choosing the best ingredients and following proven methods results in much better-tasting smoothies. In the same way, including essential components and following key processes results in much more successful improvement plans. I’ve learned that neither cutting corners nor over indulgence works, regardless of whether you’re making a peach smoothie or a junior high campus improvement plan.

At home, I now sip on healthy and delicious smoothies quite regularly, because I follow my practiced routines and use the correct ingredients. As a result, I’m getting more of the vitamins and minerals I need from fresh fruits and vegetables, and my body is healthier and more nourished. When schools are committed to carefully designed processes, quality content, SMART performance objectives and the BEST strategies, they, too, can benefit from healthy “CIPs.”

Start Creating Your Healthy Campus Improvement Plan.
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