Final School Board Assessment post

My term has ended as your association president, but before I leave office, I have two last things to share. First, I hope all will assist John and his officers for 2008-2009 with moving the association forward. Next, I want to close out the series I started on what Board Standards are, and how we all must work with them for Public Education. I will wrap up by attempting to offer a means of assessing how each of us does towards meeting our responsibilities to the students in our districts.
If you will remember, when I began we first looked at what was Vision, and did we have one for the District. If you look at NSBA’s The Key Work of School Boards under Vision, it tells us “it’s not about what we are, but what we want to be.” Therefore, Vision is how as a board we use foresight to plan for the 21st century education. This forward thinking is not done only by the board, but in combination with other stakeholders, such as parents, community leaders, and administrators. The “Plan” does not end when the goals and directions are set, but should be a living document that is reviewed periodically to refocus or confirm that it is still producing desired results. To this end some questions each of us can ask ourselves is:
1. Do we articulate this vision in the decisions we make at the board table?
2. Do those decisions represent what all the stakeholders believe is best for the students in the district?
3. Finally, do the strategic plans of the district move the district towards the vision that has been set?

The second piece of the Board Standards we discussed earlier this year was the foundation or Structure of the organization. As board members, you are the first layer of the structure, and all decisions from the superintendent to the color of the buildings are decisions based on what is best for the students. The policies and curriculum choices made by the board and other staff are more bricks and mortar holding together a program designed to have all students prepared for the future be it workplace or college. This framework, like the Vision, sometimes needs to be reinforced and adjusted so assessing it by asking the following questions keeps it fresh:
1. When the board makes personnel decisions are they supportive of the structure and do they make the vision clearer?
2. Do all policy and planning decisions made by the board meet the instructional needs of the students?
3. Is the board supporting continuing development of the staff whose skills must be updated to keep education fresh?

A key component of NCLB and the third in our Board Standards is Accountability, or answerability. By definition, it is being held responsible for actions or decisions that can have a detrimental affect on other individuals. As many board members have learned the hard way, we are accountable to not only to the students we educate, but also the community and to stakeholders who pay the taxes that support our schools. The DSTP assessment is a state measure of the accountability of the district, as we all know the consequences of not meeting AYP as it relates to student performance can have serious consequences for all levels of the structure from the board to the staff. A couple of questions we can all ask that give a quick snap shot whether we are meeting this accountability would be:
1. Is the board being provided data and feedback on student performance in order to make good decisions?
2. Are goals for all staff based on accountability for student performance?
3. Is the district keeping parents and stakeholders informed of performance issues and plans to improve?

Having only covered the basic work of boardsmanship, let us now take time to touch on two issues that separate good board members from great board members. First, let us talk about what many of us are passionate about when it comes to public education, and that is Advocacy for the children of our state. Every time you attend an open house or other function celebrating the accomplishments of our students, we are advocating for their future by showing we care. As volunteers for education, we combine our voices and skills with parents and stakeholders to foster the developmental skills needed to survive in the 21st century. Today’s students face challenges before they even reach our doors, and all of them are detracting from their ability to concentrate and learn. We need to assess whether we are successful in our Advocacy by asking ourselves the following questions:
1. When the board meets in public, do we recognize those individuals and groups who have contributed to education?
2. Does the board work with staff to promote new ideas that affect student’s performance in both scholastic endeavors and life experiences?
3. Lastly, does the board work through state and federal agencies to improve resources and opportunities for students.

This brings me to the last of my topics on Board Standards, and one where board members find themselves held to a higher standard then other elected officials, Ethics. As volunteer board members, we are one of the few citizens groups with the power to levy taxes on our neighbors, so how we manage that money in a responsible manner is important. Using good moral values and judgments when making decisions is the responsibility of ever board member, and should one member of a board not, the entire board as seen as being unethical. That means even if the Vision is good; the Structure sound; measures of Accountability are in place; and we are Advocates for the children, if one person in the district fails to use good moral principles the entire system is flawed. To that end, we each need to ask the following as we carry out both professional and personal decisions:
1. When you were representing the district at any time, did you use good moral judgment, and professionalism?
2. Does the board treat the staff and public with respect during both closed and open sessions?
3. Do all board members understand that the work of the board can only be done by a group effort, and that individual agendas need to be left at the door?

I hope that in some small way my discussions over the last several months and this small assessment wrap up were of use to you. I look forward to working with the Association and other board members as we make the best of what looks to be a rough 2008-2009

About Gary M Wolfe

The Author spent 10 years as a member of the Milford Delaware Board Of Education, and is currently seeking the 18th Senatorial seat in the Delaware Legislature.
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