After serving for 12 years, I thought I’d seen it all. However, at the risk of using a term that is bordering on overused, these are unprecedented times for our country and our district. Given the fiscal and operational challenges facing our system, it is critical that the Director has thought partners at the table that are capable of making strategic and, I suspect, some very difficult decisions in the near future. Our new normal will have to be managed with skill, expertise, historical knowledge, and an eye for a future that will be navigated with far less funding, resources, and margin for error than we have ever seen. I bring a perspective that we do not have at the table: 23 years of corporate experience that has allowed me to develop deep expertise in strategic planning, program management, leadership development and crisis management.
The board :
a) is responsible for the hiring and evaluation of the director of schools
b) ensures accountability for the district
c) provides operational guidance through policy and budget
The other responsibility that is critical to being able to carry out the above responsibilities is governance readiness. The board must accept full responsibility, orient itself to the role, and have a systemic approach to doing the work of the board.
During my second term as board chair, I shared the following at the State of Schools address:
Effective school boards:
Each member of the board needs to lean into his/her role in the managerial relationship with the Director. A manager, a good manager, is clear in the goals of the organization and the resources and supports the employee (the Director) needs to accomplish the goals. Once those goals are agreed upon the manager should always seek to eliminate barriers to success for the Director. We have, as a board, failed to do that consistently as a board. This has often been as a result of delving too deeply and attempting to assert undue influence at the operational and tactical levels of the organization and the work it is charged to do.
The Director has done an amazing job in making some difficult decisions, with the full board support: school consolidations, cutting positions at the central office and forgoing some contracts in order to meet a large portion of the budget shortfall.
The limited dollars we have available have to be applied at the greatest point of need for our students – the classroom.
It is unfortunate that legislation around charters have created an adversarial relationship between the board and charter operators. Ideally, charters become a lever of change to improve outcomes for students by allowing to pull charters into areas of need versus having them pushed upon us. Being forced into long term contracts, and not having a source of funding that eliminates the negative fiscal impact makes it difficult to view charters as the partners that the original model intended them to be.
Well, the answer lies in the question: stay focused on student achievement. Specifically, lean into the role of being a partner with the district in accomplishing the goals set forth in the strategic plan. Ensure that board agenda topics and discussions center on how well we are progressing towards our established KPIs and be clear on what the board should do, how it should respond, when it is evident that we are not trending toward success. If we practice good governance, stay out of attempts to apply inappropriate levels of influence at the operational and tactical levels, the conversations can be on the issues and at the level that allow us to be our most effective.
One of the great things that has arisen from the pandemic and the need for social distancing is the leveraging of technology to more readily engage communities and families. The district has hosted several town hall and cluster meetings and have been intentional in engaging board members in those conversations. Additionally, partnering with community organizations to host meetings around specific topics of interest can be an opportunity to keep the district informed.
Unfortunately, the state’s annual assessment have been conducted inconsistently and unsuccessfully for several years in a row. And in years when they were administered and results made available, they served to be more punitive that informative. Annual assessments should be able to inform a teacher, school, and district on specific areas and opportunities for improvement – and our current state assessment is not designed to do that. The results on an assessment of any kind should be actionable and made available in a timely manner.
The District’s decision to expand the use of FLVS will provide the tools needed to assess the amount of learning loss our students have experience since closure in March of this year. We also planning to spend the first month heavily focusing on the social and emotional needs of our students due to the trauma of a disrupted school year exacerbated by the uncertainties that have resulted. The FLVS system will also allow for individual learning plans to be developed for our students so that both teachers and parents have a clear understanding of the academic gaps that need to be addressed.