Fairfax schools’ strategic plan diagram evokes another complex PowerPoint slide

Slide presentations largely aim to provide audiences with visual aids to help in understanding complex ideas. But sometimes, the images can just add to the complexity.

At a meeting scheduled for Monday, the Fairfax County School Board plans to discuss Superintendent Karen Garza’s top initiative for this year: A new strategic plan for the school system. Garza has said that a concrete strategy will help her administration work more efficiently and make decisions with a specific goal in mind.

The school board presentation Monday on the strategic plan includes one slide that is, well, a bit confusing.

A Fairfax County Public Schools slide describing a new "strategic plan" administrators are developing.
A Fairfax County Public Schools slide describing a new “strategic plan” administrators are developing.

The slide is meant to explain the overall plan, which includes working with Fairfax County parents, teachers and community members to help define a new vision for the school system. The strategic plan likely will involve lots of moving parts, but the presentation slide is going to need lots of explanation.

The slide called to mind a Department of Defense PowerPoint slide from earlier years, during the war in Afghanistan. In that slide, a noodle soup of lines criss-cross each other in a diagram meant to show the complexity of modern war in a country where daily existence more closely resembles the Middle Ages.

A Department of Defense slide describing U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.
A Department of Defense slide describing U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

The American commander at the time, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, once remarked about the PowerPoint diagram: “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,” according to the New York Times.

The slides for Monday’s presentation in Fairfax use terms like “task force,” “action plans,” and “short-term tactical improvement.” They also include sentences like this one: “Conduct a thorough analysis of relevant division-level information to assist in assessing the current state of performance. Use these findings to identify key drivers for improving student outcomes and operational efficiencies.”

If that isn’t yet exactly clear, one thing seems to be: Garza is on a mission to improve education in Fairfax.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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