The School Board held a workshop last night from 5 until about 8:30 or so. The agenda can be found here. The following summary certainly shouldn’t be considered authoritative, but it reflects my recollection of what we talked about and agreed (or didn’t agree) on.
We started out discussing the Board’s committee structure. During the past year, we have had three committees: Operational Support, Student Achievement and Performance Monitoring, and Planning and Development. Each of these three has been a committee of the whole, with two co-chairs, and each committee has met in rotating order on the Monday evening that preceded the Board’s regular monthly meeting.
Last night we considered a proposal to suspend these committees for the first semester of the school year and instead utilize ad hoc committees structured to address specific Board priorities for the year and tasked with responsibility to produce by the end of the year a report or some other tangible accomplishment that advanced the assigned Board goal.
After much discussion, the Board seemed to settle on a hybrid approach. Our current three committees will continue in operation, but they will no longer be committees of the whole. There seemed to be a consensus that each of the committees would consist of three members, with one member designated the chair. We also seemed to settle on two of the members of each committee. They are: Operational Support: Lucy Mathiak and James Howard; Student Achievement and Performance Monitoring: Marj Passman and Beth Moss; and Planning and Development: Arlene Silveira and me.
In addition, we’ll also have ad hoc committees. We seem to have agreed on three. The first would work on a five-year budget plan and would include James Howard and me. The second would address equity issues, including prioritizing focus areas identified in the recent Equity Report and developing decision-making guidelines, and would include Beth Moss and Maya Cole. The third would focus on HR matters and particularly efforts to recruit and hire a more diverse workforce, and would include Marj Passman, Lucy Mathiak and Arlene Silveira.
There was general agreement that time’s a wastin’ and we need to get started on our committee and Board work pronto. We agreed that at least the first two ad hoc committees should get down to business as soon as possible.
Among the priorities that the Board has tentatively identified to work on this year are: (1) the development of a five-year budget plan (which will be the assignment of one of our ad hoc committees); (2) a broad priority addressing the need to improve outcomes for students, work on transitions, determine better student assessments, and work on retaining more families in the district (the various parts of which will be parceled out among standing committees); (3) working towards a more diverse workforce (the charge of another of our ad hoc committees); (4) developing better means of Board/administration communications (which will be addressed by our Board officers, Maya Cole and Beth Moss, working with Dan Nerad and other administrators); and (5) improving our evaluations of programs and business services (which falls within the purview of the Planning and Development Committee).
We also discussed the scheduling of Board meetings and committee meetings. Different views were expressed on whether we should operate on the assumption that the Board or at least one or more committees will meet every Monday night. (I think it’s a good idea.) We did vote to move our “official” monthly Board meeting to the final Monday of the month, with the thought that that would be the appropriate time to take final action on whatever issues we have been working on that month.
We agreed on holding “data retreats” over the coming months. These are intended as meetings where we can focus on a single issue in detail and review and seek understanding of the available data that bears on the issue in question. We thought we would address the following topics at a data retreat during the indicated month: 4K budget (October); Individual Learning Plans (November); the suite of Explore/Plan/ACT tests for all district students and associated costs (January) and the evaluation of our literacy programs (February).
Finally, we discussed proposed changes to Board policies addressing the responsibilities and expectations of Board members. The proposals we considered are set out in my previous post. Most discussion focused on the proposed changes to Policy 1540, School Board Ethics. Our current policy has what seems to me to be an odd listing of two separate and overlapping sets of expectations, one from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards and one from the National School Boards Association. The proposed revision combines these two into one, and adds a few additional expectations, including one that states that Board members should “[m]odel the type of respectful, informed, and open-minded discussion and consideration of issues that Board members would like to see reflected throughout all levels of the district and its schools.”
Board members suggested adding to the revised draft of 1540 the following expectations that are included in the current policy. The effect of the changes would be to add to the proposed statements the expectations that Board members should:
- Be responsive to the public, maintaining open communication lines with fellow citizens in the community, informing them on the educational needs of the District, as well as on actions of the Board and accomplishments of the District’s educational program.
- Consider the School Board’s roles as the District’s employer, making sure the District has able and well-qualified employee who will serve in the best interests of the students. (This includes providing for staff development and evaluation.)
- Encourage the free expression of opinion by all Board members, and seek systematic communications between the Board and students, staff, and all elements of the community.
- Communicate to other Board members and the Superintendent expressions of public reaction to Board policies and school programs.
A revised draft of the policy that adds these expectations will be prepared. The expectation is that the Board will consider and act on the proposed changes to our policies at our Board meeting on September 13. Anyone with a view on the changes can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share thoughts on the proposal, or of course on any other topic of interest.