Posted Date: 01/06/2022
January is commonly a time of personal reflection and refocusing as the calendar rolls to a new year. We use it as an opportunity to get a restart on our personal lives. In the life cycle of a school year, this reflection and refocusing happens regularly during the summer months leading up to the kickoff of a new school year. However, with the changes in election cycles in recent years, we are provided another opportunity to reflect and refocus around board tables in January. The first month of the new year also happens to be school board appreciation month. It provides an excellent opportunity to recognize our school boards' difficult and challenging work. Let us embrace the opportunity to reflect and refocus as fresh faces show up around the board table to gain insights into shared beliefs, values, and priorities of the seven individuals that must quickly meld together into a high functioning team that ensures all students are experiencing success.
The work of school boards does not often get recognized unless it grabs headlines. These decisions are just tiny blips on an extensive range of decisions that the board makes related to student success. Boards ask themselves regularly, "What should we support and focus on to ensure that all students are successful once they leave our system?" Great boards keep this question at the core of the many decisions they study, debate, and establish as policy. A beautiful thing happens around a board table when seven individuals bring their experiences, beliefs, and values to conversations around wide-ranging topics that must be addressed to keep the district moving in a positive direction. Great boards approach these conversations with a focus on their students' current and future needs, then try to find the best path forward after weighing the seven perspectives around the table. In these deliberations, there is a collective understanding that it is not about one part of the board "winning" the debate or getting their way. Instead, the process focuses on finding the best solution for students. The process can require individuals to grapple with decisions that challenge their personal beliefs or values but are best for the greater good of the students.
How can boards use a time of reflection and refocus to their advantage? Spend time discussing district-wide goals and priorities, why these are important, and the progress on these goals and priorities. Experienced board members should embrace this opportunity to welcome fresh faces and engage them in discussion around the following conversations:
Who are our students, and what are their current needs and future aspirations?
This is a conversation that focuses on the make-up of our student enrollment. Is our enrollment growing or shrinking? What are the demographic trends? How are they performing the defined measures that we use across the district?
What does our educational program include?
The educational program includes the standards taught and curriculum focused on addressing those standards, along with our co-curricular and extracurricular opportunities. How are standards established? When and how are curricular alignment decisions made? What are the trends in student participation in courses offered and opportunities provided?
How are we supporting and preparing our personnel to deliver the educational program to meet our students' needs?
What has been our focus of professional development for staff? How have we established consistent expectations across the district related to the quality of instruction utilized? What are the staffing trends; retirements, losing staff, percentage of staff in their first three years?
What is being done to ensure the physical plant we provide as a district supports the talents of our staff as they deliver the educational program to meet student needs?
What are the long-term plans to address ongoing maintenance needs? How are we keeping up with technological demands? What are the big-ticket items that will need to be addressed soon?
Tip: Call the KASB Leadership staff for facility and operations studies and strategic planning assistance.
How are we ensuring that we create the "right" culture that supports improving communication and engagement with our stakeholders?
Stakeholders can be defined into two categories internal and external. Internal would consist of staff. External is families, businesses, and patrons.
Tip: Call the KASB office to help with strategic planning or district culture studies.
Conversations centered on these areas cannot all be had at the first meeting in January but should be built into the ongoing work of the school boards. Great boards have engrained these conversations into monthly work. These conversations do not often grab headlines but are critical to keeping the system in alignment with the needs of students. As experienced board members sit down with new board members, do not assume there is mutual understanding around the table about why these conversations are meaningful. Take time to reflect and refocus alongside the fresh faces now at the table.
Thank you to the board members who have endured a grueling two years. Thank you to the new board members who were willing to put themselves in a position to serve for the benefit of the students within their communities. Reflecting and refocusing together to embrace the challenges that lay ahead will strengthen your board's ability to ensure that all students are experiencing success.