Defining the district’s vision: Superintendent seeks new strategic plan

As the new superintendent of Brainerd Public Schools, Heidi Hahn said one of her priorities is establishing a strategic plan.

Heidi Hahn speaks in front of a group of people
Brainerd Assistant Superintendent Heidi Hahn speaks in front of a group of community members in April 2022 as part of her interview to be the district's next superintendent.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch file photo
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BRAINERD — Developing a strategic plan was one of the primary goals Heidi Hahn outlined when she interviewed for superintendent of Brainerd Public Schools.

Now set firmly in the job, Hahn brought a recommendation to the School Board Monday, Oct. 10, to contract with the Minnesota School Boards Association for the project. A consultant from the association, Hahn said, would spearhead the process by facilitating community surveys, focus groups and listening sessions to ensure the plan aligns with the values of the community at large.

School Board members, however, asked about seeking proposals from other firms and private businesses that do strategic planning to ensure the district gets the best product.

“In reviewing the presentation of what they offer, to me it’s very old school,” board member Tom Haglin said of the school boards association. “I already see the outcome — we’ve got these thick three-ring binders with papers. So what I see is what’s been around for years. It’s an old process of strategic planning.”

Even if the district has to pay more to another company, Haglin said the return could be far better and would be worth the cost.


“I think we need a facilitator who’s going to guide us and take ownership with it versus just another three-ring binder,” he said.

To challenge that notion, Hahn said what comes out of the proverbial binder lies in the hands of the district, meaning board members and district staff are the ones who make the plan what it is.

Board member Kevin Boyles said he liked Haglin’s thoughts from a business perspective but also asked if there would be other firms out there as well-versed in the ins and outs of school district operations from the standpoint of finances, policies and community engagement. That said, Boyles said he would be interested in hearing from other entities about what they could do for the district.

People sit in audience
Attendees of the Brainerd School Board meeting Monday, Oct. 10, 2022, include candidates running for seats on the board this year.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Board member Charles Black Lance said the biggest concern for him is hiring an entity that is going to allow the community to make the plan its own. Laying out the process in clear terms, he said, is one of the ways to do that.

Hahn said she took that idea into account in her presentation to the board, which laid out the four phases of the process the Minnesota School Boards Association would guide the district through at a cost of $26,000.

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The first phase is data collection and analysis, which would include surveys, listening sessions, focus groups, stakeholder engagement reports and a state of the school district update. The next phase would be development of the plan, followed by adoption and implementation and then monitoring and updating the plan as need be.

MSBA’s proposed timeline is to begin Phase 1 in March, which would allow the new school board members voted in to get settled on the board, and have a plan to adopt by the end of May. With a private firm, Hahn said the timeline could be much longer, potentially up to two years.The district does not have a strategic plan in place right now, as Hahn said the last plan dated back to the leadership of Steve Razidlo, who retired from the superintendent role in 2014.

Minnesota state statute requires school boards to adopt a “comprehensive, long-term strategic plan to support and improve teaching and learning that is aligned with creating the world’s best workforce.”


“For the last five years, our energy has been spent on facilities, and so that long-range planning and strategic planning is not in place,” Hahn said. “And I guess that’s my concern as a superintendent sitting in this new role is that I don’t think I should be operating in the sense of independent decision-making with no strategic plan to hang a decision upon.”

Even though the process could take longer, Black Lance said he would rather wait and get the plan right rather than rushing it.

Board member Sarah Speer echoed Hahn’s sentiments, saying the plan will be whatever the board makes of it, and added that it would be good to work with an entity which specifically understands school districts.

Board Chair Ruth Nelson said she respects the state school boards association and knows the good work it can do.

“I think it’s up to the board to make it as good as it can be and follow up on it,” Nelson said, echoing Hahn and Speer.

Both Nelson and Haglin will retire from the board when their terms are up at the end of the year and will not partake in the strategic planning process as board members.

Board members ultimately did not vote on a contract with the Minnesota School Boards Association and instead directed Hahn to bring more options before them.

Hahn said she will bring more information to the board at its next meeting in November about what other options are available, along with their associated costs and timelines.


Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect the school board didn't take an official vote to table the contract, but simply took no action on the contract with Minnesota School Boards Association.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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