Op-Ed: Is your school board keeping your school district from improving?

By Brian Shanks

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) lays out the role of a school board and gives them a template for helping the school achieve success. This can be found here: https://tea.texas.gov/texas-schools/school-boards.

To break down what the TEA says in its simplest form, the school board is to provide high level leadership to the school district through the superintendent, who reports to the school board.

How do they do this?

TEA uses five points called the Texas Framework for School Board Development. These points are Vision, Accountability, Structure, Unity, and Advocacy.

It is important for the community to understand the roles of the school board and its members. It is even more important for the school board trustees to understand their role. I have ordered these five points by how I perceive their importance:

  1. The school board works as a team with the superintendent and the community = Unity.
  2. From this unified commitment, the school board works to identify the problems and create goals = Vision.
  3. Vision is used as the basis for the school board and superintendent to establish student outcomes, identify non-negotiables, monitor progress using metrics, and ensure that proper funding is available = Structure.
  4. The superintendent uses the outcomes to create objectives that tie directly into accomplishing the goals. The superintendent reports to the board on progress and the board evaluates whether the outcomes are being met based on the agreed upon metrics = Accountability.
  5. Finally, the school board is there to ensure that our children have a healthy and safe environment for learning and that our schools are meeting the needs of our community = Advocacy.

I placed Unity as the number one point. If the school board and superintendent do not work together as a team, towards a unified vision for the school district, then all of the other points will fail. Therefore the school district does not improve.

Leadership is the answer to building this Unity. Leaders have to be able to bring a diverse group of people together to solve problems.

Without good leadership, there is no unity, without unity, problems cannot be solved and our schools cannot improve.

In a well run school board, it works like this…

PROBLEM: A large portion of our students are not performing at grade level.

GOAL: To increase the number of students in our district who are at grade level.

OUTCOME: Improve academic achievement by seeing 50% of our students at or above grade level by the 2025 state assessment.

OBJECTIVES:  Superintendent provides the “how” to meet the outcome, what resources are required, and ensures execution.

REPORTING:  The superintendent measures the desired effect based on metrics and supplies the board with reports to show progress.

This process puts in place a structure for the district and allows for continuous improvement. The vision can contain multiple goals, however, the best results come from a cohesiveness between these goals.

An example of a cohesive goal could be to improve the graduation rate, which has a correlation with increasing the number of students who are at grade level.

Whereas a goal to increase extracurricular activities during normal class time would directly compete with the goal of increasing the number of students at or above grade level. This could detract from achieving the example goal stated above.

Note that I specifically focused on the role of the superintendent and not their staff.  This was done to stress the importance of the relationship between the school board and the superintendent.

The school board should not directly interfere with the superintendent’s leadership role in the district.  Instead, they should do the exact opposite and support the superintendent’s leadership role.

It is my expectation that the superintendent will work closely with his administrators and teachers; to help identify problems and goals, as well as provide invaluable input into establishing outcomes and objectives.

There is an appearance of disconnect between the school, school board, and community.

One of the first things I will do as a school board member is to work on bridging this disconnect, by communicating with the community, meeting with the parents and having discussions, and working together as a school board to address the voice of the community.

I would appreciate your vote on May 7, for San Marcos CISD Board of Trustees, District 4.

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