Talking with Paul Imhoff, Superintendent of  the Upper Arlington City Schools

Today, Carole speaks with Paul Imhoff about creating community based, living strategic plans that transform school districts. One of the major accomplishments during his time in Upper Arlington has been leading the effort to reinvent the strategic planning process for the district.  The new hybrid planning process incorporated the best from private-sector and public-sector models and resulted in a focused, results-oriented plan with measurable goals.  You can learn more at

Mr. Imhoff has 18 years of administrative experience in public education, including six years as the superintendent of Mariemont City Schools and four years as the assistant superintendent in Madeira City Schools, both high-achieving districts in the Cincinnati area. Prior to moving into administrative roles, he spent 7 years teaching high school English and junior high language arts and reading.

“If we don’t set goals, we certainly aren’t going to accomplish them. − Paul Imhoff”

Why should a school district have a strategic plan?
Strategic planning can often seem pointless as so many end up shelved in administrative offices, instead of in action in the school district. This happens when schools create strategic plans that are overly detailed/lengthy and are next to impossible to implement. The key is having a truly focused and measurable plan. The strategic plan is the blueprint for achieving the mission or vision statement of the district, step by step, with clear goals and measures along the way.

Creating Buy In and Involving Everyone
Looking at the best practices in both the private and public sector, Upper Arlington came up with a hybrid approach to Strategic Planning. With so many voices in the community, districts tend to fail when they include every minute detail and opinion brought to light in the planning process. This creates the lengthy plan that gathers dust on the shelf. A hybrid approach takes the open forum of the public sector, where all stakeholders are actively engaged and creates focused, measurable result centered goals. In Upper Arlington they arrived at 5 such goals to be achieved in 3 ½ years time.

Any strategic plan that begins to reach more than 3 years is informed fiction. It is imprudent to stretch plans further as things in the world and our communities are changing too quickly.

Advice on Strategic Planning
Creating clearly articulated goals as well as action plans on how we will achieve them is paramount in the planning process. It is also important to create measures to track your progress throughout the process. You cannot achieve goals that you do not set.

Be wary of seeking others opinions, but not listening. There is nothing more damaging than the illusion of input. You must listen to all of the voices in the community, not just to the ideas that support your vision.

Why Public Education?
Public education has had a profound impact on Paul. He, along with his brothers and sisters are the first generation in his family to attend college. He believes in public education as a great equalizer and that every student across the country deserves a quality public education.

Book Recommendation: Lead for God’s Sake by Todd G. Gongwer (A parable about leadership.)