I attended the Executive Committee meeting of the Whole this week. It was actually a pleasure to be at the meeting and I hope to see more of what I heard and saw.
It's kind of sad, really, that it was just me, the Board and staff. (Long-time watchdog Chris Jackins came in briefly but left.) Because I wish more people could have been there. And, especially critics like the Times, Crosscut and Joel Connelly, who you virtually never see at any district meeting but they do like to go on at their outlets as if they really seeing the Board and staff in action firsthand.
What did I like?
- I liked how the meeting ran smoothly.
- I liked how the mood seemed relaxed and easy-going.
- I really liked how staff and the Board interacted with respect and kindness.
Maybe this is the influence of Superintendent Nyland or maybe they have all decided the way forward is thru cooperation and honesty.
What were they discussing? The agenda was the Superintendent Evaluation 2013-2014 which wasn't really about the superintendent's performance but goal-setting and how staff did in different areas. Then there was a discussion of the Board's committee structure and calendar. I had to leave before the last item which was the Board's evaluation.
One thing that worked well was having Manager of Policy & Strategic Research Erinn Bennett run the meeting. She's incredibly well-organized and keeping things moving along. (As well, the Board office staff - Theresa Hale and Kathie Pham - are just a well-oiled team. I notice that Theresa has been given more analyst work and seems to be doing a good job.)
Ms. Bennett opened the meeting saying the Superintendent Evaluation would have been done sooner but they did not expect the departure of Superintendent Banda. Here's the introduction to those goals:
The intention in establishing expectations for the Superintendent's evaluation is to move the district and the Superintendent toward "Proficient" and "Distinguished" levels of performance over time. (The other levels of performance are Unsatisfactory and Basic.)
Unsatisfactory - fails to fulfill the responsibilities identified as Basic.
Basic - Fulfills responsibilities to the minimum defgree requeired by law, policy or contract
Proficient - all the elements of Basic plus ensuring consistent implementation of responsibilities required by law or policy across all schools.
Distinguished - fulfills all elements of Proficient plus models exemplary and innovative performance as recognized by independent and nationally recognized organizations and experts.
The goals go by the acronym SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely).
Each goal has multiple Indicators.
This goal level was taken in June 2014 and the staff have a new goal level for November 2014. Staff gave themselves mostly Unsatisfactory and Basic scores with goals by November for Proficient.
- Michael Tolley noted that MAP "did not meet our needs." They took dollars from MAP in order to help MTSS (multi-tiered systems of support).
- Superintendent Nyland noted that Seattle is so far ahead of other districts in creating and working on their SMART goals and Superintendent goals.
- Director McLaren told staff that she did not believe it appropriate to call their work "unsatisfactory" for work that they just started and thought it unfair. Director Carr concurred and I thought staff seemed pleased to be given that breathing room.
- Dr. Herndon said that the capacity needs work was at "Basic." He said one challenge is finding a permanent director of Enrollment. They had done one round of interviews and did not find a satisfactory candidates. They are now doing another round and feel there are good candidates. (I will rain on my happy parade here to note that at a Board retreat earlier in the year, staff had named filling this position a "low" priority. I had found that odd at the time given the capacity management issues.)
- Charles Wright mentioned that the district was going to pilot a "customer satisfaction survey."
- HR head Brent Jones said they do not have a Central Office professional development strategy but felt when they do get that work done, it will be valuable.
Board Committee Structure discussion
The issue here is the number of meetings, number of topics at meetings and length of meetings for Directors.
There were several handouts here including a chart that referenced how many work sessions board directors around the country and our region have in a month. Seattle and Spokane appear to have the highest number of work sessions of districts their size around the country and region at 30-40.
What is puzzling to me is how many of the other districts have very few to no committees. Tacoma's column said "only have committees that are legally required and only for duration needed."
Some of these acronyms for committees can be funny. Seattle uses COW (Committee of the Whole) while St. Paul uses COB (Committee of the Board).
There was some very heartfelt discussion.
Director Blanford pushed back against a lot of changes saying he worried about not getting deep enough into issues to do our responsibility to overseeing the district and giving guidance.
Director Martin-Morris pointed out that staff work all day as do several Board members. He pointed out that people only have so much bandwidth and energy in a single day.
Director Carr said she felt strongly about the committee structure but was not sure how it served the Board as a whole.
My notes don't reflect that they came to a consensus on any change (I may have left by then).
But when they were having this discussion I e-mailed Rep. Reuven Carlyle who has consistently spoken out about paying Board members of the three largest districts in Washington so that directors CAN give the time and effort to the job of running these large and complex districts. I cc'ed the Board on it.