Board members Race to the Top
By Madelynn Coldiron
From preschools and day care centers to middle and high schools, a program funded by a four-year, $40-million federal Race to the Top grant will make substantive changes in 22 school districts in western and central Kentucky.
But the innovation won’t be taking place only within schools. The school boards at the helm of those districts also will benefit from the project in the form of additional professional development, with the help of KSBA.
“It is our philosophy that the more knowledgeable school boards are about the educational challenges faced by students across Kentucky, the better prepared they will be to make data-based decisions around student performance every day,” said George Wilson, executive director of the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative, the lead agency that received the grant. “To that end, we see these 22 school board teams and the work we will do with KSBA as a model for the state."
The inclusion of school boards in the project is recognition of the effect boards can have on student achievement in their district, said David Baird, KSBA’s associate executive director. And, he said he believes the training they receive “will enhance their ability to serve their communities at a much more high-quality level.”
The original Race to the Top legislation envisioned that evaluation of school board members would be part of the funded programs, along with teachers, principals and superintendents, explained Johna Rodgers, grant writer for GRREC. That piece was later dropped, she said.
“However, it seemed wise to us, and I might say wise to George Wilson, that we continue to look at that and to think about – not how to evaluate – but how to create a growth plan for board members that would allow them to improve in their skills and in their judgments related to education,” she said.
KSBA’s current board self-evaluation tools are expected to be a starting point to develop what Wilson calls “an enhanced School Board Member Professional Growth and Development Model” that could eventually be used statewide.
“This would likely fall under the leadership initiative of the grant,” Wilson said. “This is not intended to be an evaluation of a school board member’s ability but rather an opportunity to meet a school board member wherever he or she is on the learning continuum, and help him or her become better in that role.”
The KSBA instruments that will be adapted to the project produce a snapshot of a board’s current status, which serves as a starting point for focusing future progress, said Kerri Schelling, KSBA’s director of Board Team Development.
“We think it sets a good precedent for the board to hold itself accountable, the way other district employees are and the way the superintendent is through an evaluation process,” she said.
The grant, which will be split among the participating districts based on student population, will fund a multi-tiered effort that is aimed at better preparing students for college and careers and at personalizing education for students. It will be important for school boards in those districts to absorb that latter concept, which emphasizes that students should be responsible for their own learning, Rodgers said.
Sixteen of the districts are members of the GRREC; six others are in the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative, a partner in the initiative.
The project’s four key components are:
• Developing student leadership, critical thinking, creativity, teamwork and problem-solving abilities
• Improving and supporting principal and teacher performance, including making data-based decisions
• Shifting to a system in which students progress through mastery of standards rather than grade by grade
• Implementing personalized learning for all students through their own learning needs and preferences, through online and off-campus opportunities and other strategies.