Do the Right Thing for Kids Board Watchers focus their eval­u­a­tion of the meet­ings on aca­d­e­m­ic achieve­ment and its indicator—state accred­i­ta­tion.  Many issues are dis­cussed at meet­ings with board and admin­is­tra­tion mem­bers at the table.   Some of these top­ics have only periph­er­al rela­tion to whether stu­dents are learn­ing what they need to learn.  If this poor­ly per­form­ing school dis­trict is to expe­ri­ence a dra­mat­ic turn­around the board must pro­vide strong lead­er­ship. Incremental change and much time spent on inter­nal pol­i­cy process­es will not serve our stu­dents and the com­mu­ni­ty.  The change effort can­not be del­e­gat­ed to the admin­is­tra­tion.  This is espe­cial­ly true when most of the top staff have left the dis­trict.  Board mem­bers must look beyond their per­son­al inter­ests and agen­das and raise their sights to grap­ple with cru­cial strate­gic chal­lenges.   

A major part of the meet­ing was tak­en up with sev­er­al pol­i­cy pro­pos­als that would impact the gov­er­nance of the dis­trict includ­ing advo­cat­ing for local con­trol, chang­ing the size and com­po­si­tion of the board, mov­ing the elec­tion date, fill­ing board vacan­cies and estab­lish­ing an advi­so­ry com­mit­tee.  While these are wor­thy top­ics over the long run, their intro­duc­tion at this time seems a lit­tle like, par­don the expres­sion, “arrang­ing the deck chairs on the Titanic.”  They may help to con­vince the State Board of Education of the school board’s will­ing­ness to change (and maybe that is the pur­pose), but it seems high­ly unlike­ly that they will increase aca­d­e­m­ic achieve­ment in the near term.  In fact, the pol­i­cy issues deflect atten­tion from the task that is Job One: aca­d­e­m­ic excel­lence.   A cit­i­zen asked dur­ing the pub­lic com­ment ses­sion why 1 in 3 first graders can­not read at grade lev­el but 96% are advanced to the next grade.  The answer from the admin­is­tra­tion was murky.

On the pos­i­tive side, board watch­ers were glad to see a real give-and-take dis­cus­sion of the pro­pos­als even though some of the dis­cus­sion seemed defen­sive of the cur­rent sys­tem, i.e. putting cur­rent or retired teach­ers on the advi­so­ry board rather than out­siders with a dif­fer­ent and per­haps threat­en­ing per­spec­tive.

Much is made of par­ent and com­mu­ni­ty involve­ment as the key to achieve­ment and accred­i­ta­tion.  Certainly over the long run an engaged com­mu­ni­ty will help build a stronger school dis­trict; how­ev­er, we are wait­ing to see evi­dence of real com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment as opposed to hype on the part of a few peo­ple.  Three recent pub­lic meet­ings to dis­cuss the gov­er­nance ideas were attend­ed by a total of less than 30 peo­ple.  School advi­so­ry coun­cils in many schools nev­er meet or are attend­ed by a few peo­ple.  The cor­re­la­tion between engaged com­mu­ni­ties and school achieve­ment could mean that engage­ment brings about achieve­ment.  It could just as well indi­cate that strong achiev­ing schools lead to an engaged com­mu­ni­ty.   The basic learn­ing set­ting is the class­room and the per­son respon­si­ble for cre­at­ing a learn­ing envi­ron­ment is still the teacher.  Citizens may help, but they can­not be held account­able for stu­dent learn­ing.  If we can build a ful­ly accred­it­ed high per­form­ing dis­trict that the com­mu­ni­ty is proud of, get­ting cit­i­zens involved will be no prob­lem. This will take some major changes that threat­en the sta­tus quo.

Other obser­va­tions: 

  • The new decor for the board plat­form is nice, and we appre­ci­ate improve­ments being made to the sound sys­tem. Another high pri­or­i­ty for the audi­ence is screens that can be read from around the room.
  • The Superintendent’s report on the A+ Program was wel­come.   We look for­ward to the pro­gram being installed in all high schools.
  • The Scholar Superstars pre­sen­ta­tions tend to be over-long, and the tech­nol­o­gy needs to be test­ed before the meet­ing to avoid embar­rass­ing the stu­dents and fur­ther affirm­ing the unpro­fes­sion­al image of the dis­trict.
  • The finan­cial report lacked any infor­ma­tion for the audi­ence: no hand­out, video or slides.  Remember com­mu­ni­ty involve­ment?
View the agenda/minutes of this meet­ing
(will open in a new win­dow).

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