University School of Jackson

Headnotes: Thinking Strategically 

Headnotes: Thinking Strategically 

Greetings USJ Families,

Thinking long-term isn’t just an act but a process: an integral component of success, whether we are referring to the business world, church life, or on a personal level. Eisenhower famously said, “plans are worthless, but planning is essential.” This statement focuses on the value of this necessary exercise of preparation. One might compare this to writing or working out…one does not just seek a tangible result but a benefit from the growth and discovery that accompanies putting in the work itself.

Strategy finds its origin in war, as the Greek “strategos” literally means leader of the army. However, one must not necessarily study Napoleonic tactics or read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to learn to think in this manner. Strategic planning serves as a stairwell from which to see “the big picture,” which is invaluable to navigating the terrain that lies ahead. We often reside in the world of everyday tactics, reacting to the crisis of the day, living in the now that neglects long-term consequences. Strategic thinking is thus necessary for our progress.

USJ has been working through this process over the past seven months. Through trustee-led work sessions, school-wide surveys, and leadership meetings with consultants, we have been tackling the issue of long-term growth, which at its core, addresses three big questions:


Who are we? One must be truthful in understanding our strengths and opportunities for improvement. We must evaluate our mission, where we stand in relation to living it out, as well as the progress on currently stated goals. One cannot set a bar for success without first taking a hard look in the mirror.

Who do we want to be? Honest reflection then requires difficult choices. The beauty of making these choices is that people and organizations have a significant say in answering this question. We place a vote daily on the kind of person and school we want to be by how we respond to people and situations that avail themselves. What about down the road? What collective aspirations do we wish to fulfill?

How are we going to get there? An individual would create a plan, a timeline, a budget, or a diet, in a sense. A school is no different in this regard. Growth requires not just goal setting, but the creation of tangible action steps and a detailed chronology for achieving these objectives.

The creation of this plan has been months in the making and will take years to accomplish. There was once a time when schools built 10-year plans, but now this 5-year proposal seems at first to be a stretch. Five years ago, we had never heard of COVID; the Dow first hit 20,000, and USJ had not built the first section of fencing or installed a single piece of new playground equipment. Is it even possible to detach from the present enough to see five years ahead?

The board of trustees and I look forward this spring to sharing with you an aggressive, yet practical plan which will guide our school through the year 2027. We will be unveiling this to all school stakeholders in a special meeting to be held in the Blankenship theater on the evening of April 20th. We look forward to sharing about our mission, what we have accomplished, and where we are headed as the best teaching school in West Tennessee, focusing our work on the following four goals:

Support and development of our faculty and staff

Advancement of rigorous academic preparation

Building character in our students and engagement with the community

Ensuring long-term financial health

As we look to the future, we must continue to double-down on advancing the mission of growing our students and in doing so constantly competing with ourselves to be better tomorrow than we are today. We have benefitted from the planning process, and now we must be resolute in its implementation. In relating the process to the origin of the term, this presents itself not as a battle but as a campaign. Again, we look forward to sharing the details of this 5-year plan with you and are committed to the challenge that lies ahead.


With Optimism and Gratitude,


Don Roe

Head of School

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