Setting Annual Priorities

by Stephanie Patton

The end of year in any school is hectic – celebrations, awards, field trips, pushes for enrollment, hiring, end of year meetings with staff, planning summer remediation, the list goes on. Whether you are leading in Los Angeles or New York, Phoenix or Memphis, Denver or Boston – your last few weeks of the year are packed – and yet, in just five or six weeks, you will be launching your next school year. Deep breath.

The highest performing schools, amid the spring busyness and start to summer, have one critical piece in common. The leader and members of their teams take time to reflect, look at data, and set clear priorities and goals for the upcoming school year by determining the highest levers to move the school forward. These priorities and goals always drive towards the mission of the school. What will put us closer to reaching our goal of ensuring 100 percent of students are college ready?

First – it is important to understand the difference between a priority and a goal. The priority is the focus. What are you working on to drive towards the mission of your school – Literacy? Math? Culture? The goal is the metric. What concrete and measurable improvement do you need to make to be closer to reaching the mission? These priorities and goals are set for the year – and along the way you measure success with benchmarks.

When setting annual priorities and goals, there are a number of items to keep in mind, including the following:

  1. Use the data. Use the data. Use the data.
    Over the course of the year you have collected and responded to a significant amount of data. Academic, behavior, overall school health (enrollment, attendance, attrition, staffing, survey data). When you look at the data from the start to the end of the year, where are the gaps? Which of those gaps, if closed in the upcoming year, would have the highest impact on getting closer to reaching the mission of your school? Once you have identified the gap and deeply analyzed the data, you also need to ask yourself: What would it look like next year to be successful? For example, if your math data was below your goal, will a focus on math have the highest impact? Yes? Then determine what success would look like. If students, on average, were 50% proficient, would an increase to 70% in one year be realistic? Would it drive closer to reaching your mission? Use the data to drive all decisions regarding setting priorities and goals.
  2. Less is more.
    There are MANY priorities any school could set in one year. Where schools often go wrong is when they set too many. When this happens, the growth of the school is often hindered, as they make slight progress in many areas, versus significant progress in one or two areas. Additionally, for schools who are still growing to scale or those who are replicating, growth itself is a major priority. What is the perfect number of priorities? There isn’t one. Typically, 2-3 are manageable, but it all depends on how large they individually are. Always ask, what change will push us closer to reaching our mission? Then, make hard decisions on what to tackle in the upcoming year.
  3. Strategically seek input.
    There are a number of reasons that seeking input on priorities is critical. First, others might see something that you do not. Second, providing input builds team investment. Seek input from your leadership team at all stages – including on your plan for implementation. The leadership team is the closest to the big picture data, and also has a deep understanding of what execution of a new priority will take. From the larger team, seek input that will help with brainstorming of new ideas. It is easy to collect this input through surveys, end of year check-ins, or summer check-ins. No matter what, leverage the ideas and feedback from those around you to support in moving your priority forward. If nothing else, it helps hold you accountable to taking action to move your school forward.
  4. Set and stick to clear benchmarks.
    Once you have identified your priorities and set goals for the year, it is important to set clear, concrete benchmarks for success throughout the year. Most commonly, schools set these at the end of each trimester/quarter when they have the most data to use reflection. By the end of Q1/T1, did you reach the benchmark set? Why or why not? How can you adjust course to ensure you are still on track to reaching the goals set for your priority? What is most going to move your school closer to reaching your mission? By tracking progress towards your annual priorities and goals, you are more likely to reach the targets at the end of the year.


If, each year, you are able to close one or two gaps from the previous year, you are driving towards excellence. Excellence for your school, your staff, and ultimately your students.