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Thursday, November 08, 2007

School Board needs a new bylaw

Sometimes when you make a mistake you get away with it. Sometimes you get really lucky and your mistake results in a benefit. Usually, however, when you make a mistake it costs you.

The School Board made a mistake and, if they don't fix it, we will all pay for it.

As a result of Tuesday's election, every member of the Board Student Learning Committee will be leaving the Board at the end of the year. There is no excuse; allowing a committee to consist entirely of Board members who all have the same term of office is just bad planning. This time it will result in a number of losses.

First, all of the Committee's work in progress will be lost. There is no reason to believe that the new committee members will complete the work of the current committee.

Second, all of the Committee's momentum will be lost. The new Committee members will have to start from a dead stop. They will have to set new priorities, generate a new workplan, and start new initiatives all from scratch halfway into the school year.

Third, and perhaps the highest cost of all, all of the experience and institutional memory of the previous committee will be irretrievably lost. In the past year the Student Learning Committee members learned - first hand - why we needed a Program Placement Policy. I seriously fear the consequences of that loss. They learned an critical lesson about Student Transformation Plans - they should seriously fear the consequences of that loss. They learned about Special Education, student discipline, Occ Ed, math curricula, and any number of esoteric details about the state EALRs, GLEs, and graduation requirements. All of this will be lost if the Board doesn't take steps to preserve it.

I suggest two remedies, one to address the immediate problem and one to prevent future such errors.

First, continuing Board members who think they might serve on this committee next year should get together with current Committee members and review the Committee's workplan, minutes, and recent experiences. While there is no replacement for first-hand experience, we must do what we can to keep the momentum and the lessons.

Second, the Board should establish a bylaw which precludes having a committee made entirely of members with the same term of office.

The Board can fix this before it is too late. I hope they do.

22 comments:

Linda Thomas said...

Hi Charlie

From what I hear, the committees will soon be a thing of the past anyway. They'll likely go to a policy governance structure. Board President Cheryl Chow favors it, and so do at least 3 of the 4 new directors.

Anonymous said...

Hey Linda,

Where can I find out more about a policy governance structure?

Thanks,

Dan

Anonymous said...

I just wrote a story about it as part of a column for Seattle's Child magazine...won't be out till December though.

Meantime, here's a start on learning about the likely new structure:

http://www.carvergovernance.com/

Some of the new board members, even before they were elected, went through a workshop on it.

Linda (aka Educating Mom)

Beth Bakeman said...

Dan, You might want to read earlier posts on this blog which discuss the Carver Policy Governance model and School Board governance:

Redefine Roles for School Board and Superintendent

and
Governance

Beth Bakeman said...

But, regardless of whether or not the School Board is moving to the Carver Policy Governance model, the issues that Charlie raises here are still valid in the short-term.

What is the plan to have knowledge transfer from outgoing Committee members to new Board members?

Anonymous said...

Beth,
Do you really think this is the first time, or the first board, that has had to deal with transferring of knowledge, policies-in progress or the host of other things board members do up until their very last day in office? Don't you think there is transition plan in place and that candidates have already been preparing for service both via meetings with district staff and through civil conversations with the incumbents.

There is also this thing called a computer that stores all transcripts, meetings and other materials and new board members can be easily brought up to speed. Sheesh!

Beth Bakeman said...

Anonymous, yes, obviously other boards have had to deal with this same issue.

And no, I'm not confident that there is a transition plan in place, but I hope so.

In terms of knowledge transfers, there are no transcripts of committee meetings. In fact, depending upon the committee, it's hard to even find any meeting notes at all.

And, even where transcripts exist (like for Board meetings and special hearings), reading through a transcript does not provide the same quality of knowledge transfer as meeting with previous Board members and discussing the issues with them.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I agree with Charlie. Getting up to speed isn't just reading some documents.

Here's my big worry; the assignment plan. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and her new right-hand man, Don Kennedy, have barely gotten here. Of the remaining board members, Mary Bass has been there 6 years with Cheryl Chow and Michael De Bell having been there just 2 years. Plus 4 new members who likely have varying degrees of knowledge about the district and its programs. Let me stress that all the new Board members have ties to the district so it isn't like they don't know anything. But again, it's understanding past history, programs placement(do we have enough throughout the city, what's missing), drawing boundaries, etc.

By January/February, are all these people really going to be ready and have the knowledge base needed to change a plan that literally affects every student in the district?

I am worried that they are not. It would end up being a disaster if it is not handled correctly. I say this not to be all "the sky is falling" but the district already has problems in how it communicates its plans to parents and how it takes communication from the public. If the senior leadership does not appear to be well-versed on these issues, the process will look amateurish.

District staff, of course, having been making a plan all along and it would be troubling to me if all the senior leadership took everything they said about the how and why of the plan at face value.

Then there are the twin issues of closure and the SE initiative. They just closed those schools this fall and are starting the planning of the initiative. Is it wise to change the enrollment plan until you know some of the outcomes from those actions?

I wish they would wait another year.

Charlie Mas said...

This is certainly NOT the first time, or the first board, that has had to deal with transferring of knowledge, policies-in progress or the host of other things board members do up until their very last day in office.

That doesn't mean that there is a transition plan in place, that the plan will be implemented, or that candidates have been preparing for service through either meetings with district staff or conversations with the incumbents.

Is there any reason to believe that these efforts are underway or will be undertaken?

Is there any evidence that such a transfer has been the standard practice at Seattle Public Schools?

While a person can read the minutes of committee meetings, these minutes often do not convey the actual tone of the meeting and they are, by no means, a complete or comprehensive record of the discussion. There is no substitute for first-hand experience.

If you were not at the Student Learning Committee meetings in April, reading the minutes of those meetings will not give you any sense of what was really revealed in them. The minutes make no mention of the routinely thoughtless, capricious, irresponsible and politically driven practices of the Program Placement Committee.

As for the Carver Policy Governance model, it is predicated on the the Board's ability to hold the CEO accountable. That has not been in evidence at Seattle Public Schools.

Also, while the Carver model sheds the Board of approval tasks, State laws require it of school boards. I suppose the only discussion necessary, however, is whether the plan up for approval is compliant with Board policy. If it is, then it is approved without further questions as to the means employed. So, to take an example from the October 17 Board agenda, the only question about the proposal to enter into a license agreement with Edusoft Assessment Management would be whether the proposed agreement violates any Policies. If not, then it should be approved without further discussion.

There is a lot to like about the Carver model. For example, this:

"Evaluation of performance is not extraneous to the board's job. It is as integral to the board's job as it is to any manager's."

I also like the bit about Board meeting time not getting wasted by entertaining staff presentations.

Anonymous said...

Beth, thanks for the governance links. I am checking them out.

In regard to the transition and things being written down and easily accessible:

Let me remind all that this school board and administration do not in many cases follow their own policies that are written down and supposed to be followed. Several of these policies if followed would have a positive impact on student learning.

It seems that several readers of this blog find this neglect of policies an acceptable course of action.

Clearly Charlie and I do not.

No matter what the Governance structure is, if the district does not wish to follow their own rules it appears little can be done to make the SPS follow a correct course of action.

Improved governance would be wonderful but it may take more than a model to bring it about. Hopefully the new board can set the district in a more responsible and responsive direction.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a bit ironic that after spending much of the campaign period writing about the very limited responsibilities board members have, many of those posting in this thread are now worked up about the transition of what sounds like important board member responsibilities.

Anonymous said...

Word!!! I think folks have way too much time on their hands. Want to get worked up over something, head to a South End elementary school.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 2:22 PM said ..

....Want to get worked up over something, head to a South End elementary school.

Excellent point. Now what to do about improving this situation is the question.

I've suggested that we investigate Project Follow Through results for guidance as well as follow existing school board policies. Several of these policies if followed would have a positive impact on student learning.

Who else has positive plans? The implementation of a district wide lock-step curriculum ala Bellevue seems very inappropriate in an extremely diverse district.

I got very little clue during the campaigns as to how the mechanics to improve South End learning would happen in the classroom.

Should not better governance and following school board policies produce better results?

Anonymous said...

Charlie help me out here...

You said..."So, to take an example from the October 17 Board agenda, the only question about the proposal to enter into a license agreement with Edusoft Assessment Management would be whether the proposed agreement violates any Policies. If not, then it should be approved without further discussion."

I never found Edusoft testing to be useful or efficient for much of the 2006-2007 school year.

Where is the determination as to whether this tool actually does what it is supposed to do done?
(cost benefit analysis --
not just $$$ but in some cases instructional time is lost because of testing that produces no useful information.)
I am guessing that might be a micro-management decision if the board was involved, but who is involved in such a determination and how is it done.

It seems in some cases a decision is made and then simply continued for several years without sufficient evaluation.

Any thoughts?

Charlie Mas said...

Dan asked: "Where is the determination as to whether this tool actually does what it is supposed to do done?
"

In the Carver model, that could be an inappropriate question for the Board to ask. In the Carver model, the Board would be very careful about constricting the Superintendent's autonomy regarding the MEANS of accomplishing the district's objectives. The Board could require that programs demonstrate effectiveness to be eligible for renewal, but that might be overly restrictive depending on the timeframe given.

Anonymous said...

Charlie,

So what happens in the Carver model, if the Superintendent is like Mr. Manhas?

Brita said...

Hello all,

The board by-laws require the board to review (and revise as needed) our board by-laws annually, which is a task for the executive committee. I don't know that the current ec has done so yet this year. This is the place for governance changes.

I have been in favor of exploring a policy governance model based on my discussions with board members around the state who use this model. It is time-consuming to set up, however, and I did not pursue it with our current board this year knowing that we might be short-term.

State law requires school board presidents to conduct an orientation for potential new members between the primary and the general election, and then once again after the results are in. I believe Cheryl Chow did the first and is probably organizing the second as we speak.

We do have minutes of all our standing committee meetings. Please call the board office if you are having trouble finding them on the web. (252-0041).

A couple of years ago we reorganized and beefed up our committees with good results--more thoughful vetting, better quality staff work, fewer last-minute motions. However, this is not the only model that could work. The committee structure takes a LOT of board and staff time.

If the board goes to policy governance, they may radically restructure board work. They may have no need of a student learning committee so Charlie's point about succession would be moot. If they do, however, then his point is well-taken and could be put into the by-laws. However, as a board president who appointed committees for 2 years, it may not be do-able. One of our members chose not to do any committee work this year, for example. A couple of years ago, board members were not willing to sign up for the finance committee. And so it goes.

Best,

Brita

Anonymous said...

Brita,

Thanks for the history and clarification.

Beth Bakeman said...

Yes, Brita. It's great to have you commenting on this blog. And I'm looking forward to having you as a contributor once your term on the Board is over!

Anonymous said...

Brita,

As a parent of young children, I'm just learning the ropes of the district and trying to soak up as much as I can from this blog. I'd just like to say how refreshing it is to see you comment here. It's nice that this medium can make it so easy and immediate for so many to participate in a discussion, and to see that a leader actually pays attention to what his/her constituents are saying. I really appreciate your presence here.

Anonymous said...

Brita - others,

I'll ask - which boardmember chose not to do any commitee work this year and what reasoning was given?

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the director who did not want to do committee work, I thought it would be easy to determine who it was by who was listed on the district's website, but it looks as if all are accounted for.

Must be someone who signed up but then backed out...

Quickly looking at the last minutes posted, it looks as if all directors were at their appointed committees...although the last minutes posted for Student Learning Committee are Aug 28 - and there are none ever for Executive committee.

Hmmm....it's a mystery -

Executive Committee
Cheryl Chow President
Darlene Flynn Vice President
Irene Stewart Member at Large

Finance Committee
Michael DeBell Chair
Brita Butler-Wall
Cheryl Chow

Student Learning Committee
Brita Butler-Wall Chair
Darlene Flynn
Sally Soriano

Operations Committee
Irene Stewart Chair
Mary Bass
Michael DeBell

Joint School Board/City Council Committee
Cheryl Chow Co-Chair
David Della Co-Chair