My School of Thought…on Effective School Boards

I now have two school board meetings under my belt and have spent the last six weeks reading research on the traits of effective school boards and how they impact student learning and success. I have found commonalities across studies, which reinforced my decision to run for the board, as well as my values as a board member. I’ll share what I learned, and my expectations for the coming months.

I’ll start with the Lighthouse study, a landmark project that began in 1998 and which is considered important and rigorous research on school board effectiveness. Lighthouse reveals that school boards in high-achieving districts, or those that have substantially raised achievement, have attitudes, knowledge and approaches that separate them from their counterparts in lower-achieving districts. They identify the traits of “moving” and “stuck” boards, and argue that despite their “distal” relationship to the classroom they can have a dramatic effect on achievement.

Their findings are consistent with those reported in multiple subsequent studies, and are the foundation for the National School Board Associations’ Characteristics of Effective School Boards. In summary, “moving”, or effective school boards:

1. Commit to a vision of high expectations for student achievement and quality instruction, create a sense of urgency, and set clear goals toward that vision
2. Have strong shared beliefs and values about what is possible for students and their ability to learn
3. Are accountability driven, applying pressure by spending less time on operational issues and more time focused on setting high expectations, and crafting policies to improve student achievement
4. Are data savvy: embracing and monitoring data and progress constantly, even when the information is negative, and using it to drive continuous improvement
5. Have strong collaborative relationships with one another, staff and the community, and create strong communications structures to inform internal and external stakeholders
6. Align and sustain resources to meet goals, and maintain high expectations even in the midst of budget challenges
7. Demonstrate commitment to student learning through board actions and decisions (evaluation of the superintendent, resource allocation, contracts, instructional time or design of the calendar, etc.)
8. Participate in a deliberative policy development process, understanding the role of policy for guiding and sustaining district work

The research that I read underscores my belief that student achievement must be central to the work of our board in MNPS, and that we play a pivotal role in how well our schools perform. I’m deeply concerned that the number of Priority Schools in MNPS has doubled since 2014. I believe that the Board of Education bears considerable responsibility in setting a course for improvement, and that you must hold us, as well as district leadership, responsible for the results.

My expectation is that the Board of Education will receive very regular and detailed reports on the improvement process in our Priority Schools, with supporting data and evidence on progress towards both interim and long-term goals. We must also take time to learn from our schools that came off of the Priority School list this year. Additionally, it is important to create processes to regularly examine student and school success beyond TNReady, including MAP and WIDA results, measures of college readiness, chronic absenteeism and discipline, as well as school climate and culture for both students and staff. We must know where we are in order to plan, adjust and improve.

I commit to doing my part to ensure we are a “moving” board so that we can collectively address the most critical challenge before us, which is to provide an excellent education for every single child in our city.