Tonight, I had the opportunity to sit with the Milford Education Association leadership and answer questions about my positions on several key issues facing the Milford School District. I am posting those questions along with my answers for others who may be interested in my reasons for volunteering with the board. At the end of the questions I have also added some personal notes of some things I felt are important being on the board. The evening I thought went well although I was a little taken aback having to answer questions with the current board president sitting in the audience behind me, and answering questions about the board and current superintendent. See below for the meat of the interview:
MSD SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE 2012
- Explain why you are running for the school board and describe the role of school board member as you understand it. I am running for the board because I still feel there is work to be done in the district and I believe I can plan a role in the decisions that will shape the future for the district. As to the role of a board member I actually spoke about it early in my time on the board with our key role being, Advocates. Advocacy, by definition is the act of arguing on behalf of a particular issue, idea or person. If we look more we see Advocacy is a set of hands-on technical skills and practices needed to effectively press for change. It is also a process through which ordinary people learn to participate in decision making at all levels. Identifying priorities, crafting strategies, stepping forward, taking action, and achieving results for the students we represent.
As board members in Delaware, we are a volunteer group of citizens who have taken on the responsibility of advocating Public Education. Delaware’s boards’ members are using their voices to shape the future of the children in Delaware and our communities. We do this by recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of the students and staff by attending everything from open houses to graduations. Second, we work with parents and parents groups to build relationships that foster the “developmental assets” needed to help our students grow. We also work with other stakeholders and education groups, both state and federal, that can lend insight and help to see that all children have the right to a good education experience. Lastly, as board members we need to promote not only board service, but also long term service that research has shown is the best way to influence the education our children receive in both Milford and Delaware.
- Since the hiring of a superintendent is imminent, what would you look for in a candidate? From my experience and what many have said to me we need to find someone who knows how to attract and retain Quality teachers and staff, but also shows progressive leadership including use of technology. Personal skills and traits that are as important are: Strong Leadership, Good Communicator, Strong Public Relations, and Instructional skills. Other traits I feel are important in the next superintendent are Integrity, Peacemaker, Enthusiastic, and Committed to the Community. Looking at their previous experiences the next superintendent should have been a frontline educator, either a principal or teacher. Other experiences from their past would be strong experiences with diverse groups, and experience with setting strategic Plans/Goals/ and Visions. Finally, because of the state of the State right now the next leader should understand Funding, School Safety, and Recruiting/Retaining high quality teachers in the lean years ahead.
- What do you believe should be the relationship between the elected school board and
- District superintendent? The one employee the board is directly responsible for and has the right to expect will carry out the directions of the board and in-directly the community. The superintendent should treat all board members equally, should keep them informed in a timely manner, and make sure the board has the best information to make the right decisions.
- District administration? The administration from building level to district level are the Starting place to learn what the micro-communities (schools) are doing and how the board needs to react to best serve the students in them. A key point, however like the superintendent, the administrators must communicate equally with all board members!
- School staff? The School level staff is the Best place to learn what the students are doing and how the board can best meet the needs of ALL the students in our schools. Staff members like the superintendent and the administrators must communicate equally with all board members!
- Milford Community? It is the community that elects the board and as such it needs to be available to and hear the needs of the community however diverse it is. However, the voice of the board to the community must be one voice and united so that the community can have trust in the decisions of the board.
4. How do you plan to maintain an understanding of how the schools operate?
As board members there are several ways we try to stay in touch with the daily work of the district staff. First, board members should be reviewing all data pertaining to attendance, suspensions, and disciplinary rates. The board should also ask that at set times data from surveys be gathered from both focused groups and diverse education stakeholders in the community. One of my favorite ways to see is by direct observation through visiting our schools as much as physically possible. The board as a standing body can also request that time or a meeting be set up so that all education stakeholders can come together in a Town Hall discussion or study circle.
5. How do you plan to communicate the district’s vision/progress to staff, parents and community members? Once the board sits with the new superintendent and discusses the goals and visions for the district they will need to be shared with all stakeholders as soon as possible. Let’s not forget however that all stakeholders need to be at the table to decide what this vision looks like, so we are talking focus groups from staff, parents, and the community. These groups will then share with their peers to get the ball rolling, but then we can reach out in so many ways today even using technology. Direct meetings with staff at each level will allow for questions and feedback to tweak if needed. Then reaching out to our PTP and MPAC groups to bring them up to speed so they can share. Utilizing technology we have on hand the district website can reach many, and our local newspapers use social media to reach many more. Finally, the board can help remind others at each board gathering by first touching on the districts vision even before starting regular orders of business.
6. What are your thoughts on parent involvement and accountability? I believe that when a child starts early in the district we see an excellent level of parental involvement and accountability through the elementary years, but it wanes as the students approach middle school age. Parental involvement and accountability also suffers due to language and economic barriers which if understood can be improved. My experiences as a parent have been that the same parents seem to be volunteering all the time, and show up for parent nights as you move through the secondary level.
From my continuing education as a board member I know that parental involvement and accountability are directly linked to student performance, and overall district health. As board members it is are responsibility to reach out and thank parents for their involvement, and to continue to ask for more.
7. How would you characterize your fiscal philosophy? If no other option existed, which current programs would you support cutting? My fiscal philosophy on the board is similar to my private philosophy in that every dollar spent better be towards improving the current situation. I know from my exposure around the state with DSBA that the states education dollars are a political pawn that is currently being sacrificed at the risk of our children’s futures. Before I look at cutting programs I would continue to lobby along with other districts around the state for restoring the funding we received prior to 2008 cuts. The elected officials in Dover answer to the voters and many voices coming together can influence the decisions with regard to funding.
If funding shortfalls do warrant cuts in education then they must be made such that our students still meet the demands placed on them by our society! Those decisions must be made by a group of stakeholders, including the whole board, that sit down and ask the tough questions.
8. What vision do you have to retain quality teaching staff? Given the current economic climate, how do you suggest we continue to provide attractive compensation? When you look at people and what drives them to continue to go to work each day data shows that financial compensation is only one piece of the puzzle. Because the financials of the district are tied to the State’s budget, short of an operations referendum, salaries will not be the key to keeping staff in the district. There are four ways we as a district can make people want to stay with us:
1. Open communication- from staff to administration to board, people need to feel that they can speak freely and bring forward issues, problems, and suggestions and have them heard.
2. Recognition- people will continue to do more with less if we take the time to point out these accomplishments to their peers.
3. Career development plan- Giving direction to and offering opportunities to grow and advance.
4. Ability to make a difference- Allowing staff the freedom to make changes to improve student’s performance.
9. With inevitable cutbacks in the future of the Milford School District, staff reductions are probably going to be a necessity. Explain how you would prioritize these personnel reductions district wide. Going back to what I said in question # 7, If funding shortfalls do warrant cuts in education then they must be made such that our students still meet the demands placed on them by our society! Those decisions must be made by a group of stakeholders, including the whole board, that sit down and ask the tough questions. Personnel cuts affect more then those who they directly touch and can undermine the morale of a district affecting education progress even more them program cuts.
1. Have the most boardsmanship hours last two years due to attending training, and functions both inside and outside the district.
2. Board representative to the RTTT team for district having attended all trainings and meeting, including one scheduled for 27th in Dover.
3. Was member of district taskforce for A/B schedule issues, and currently on team to look at district technology and infrastructure as funding goes away.
4. Continue to support statewide initiatives to make equalization funding better for all districts in the state so that smaller, poorer districts can still be competitive for salaries. I try to attend all functions that give access to the state legislators in the hope they will hear the messages about equalization.
5. One of the most transparent board members in the state with a webpage set up to allow open communication about education. Also continue to make myself available to groups to discuss issues in the district, including the MEA, administrators, and parents.