In Conversation With…features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a staff member of the Kentucky School Advocate.
This month’s conversation is with KSBA Board Team Development Director Kerri Schelling. It takes place on the heels of KSBA’s Jan. 31-Feb. 2 Annual Conference, during which new required training for board members was unveiled on a large scale. Schelling discussed those and other new training options in the offing.
Q: The annual conference was the first large-scale opportunity to break in the new required training in finance, superintendent evaluations and ethics. What was the demand like for each?
A: Sessions on the required topics were just as popular as we expected, which is why we scheduled at least one workshop on each topic during each of the four breakout sessions. We wanted to give members multiple opportunities to attend throughout the conference and help ease overcrowding as much as possible.
Programming this year’s agenda was especially challenging because so much of the conference format had to be confirmed prior to the new training regulation becoming official. Not knowing for sure what the final version would look like and still trying to meet the unique needs of over 870 board members was a bit like putting a square peg in a round hole in the dark.
But in the final analysis of the 40 regular workshops offered, 16 met the new requirement for these topics. I am looking forward to having more lead time for next year’s conference, though!
Q: I know some sessions maxed out. How did KSBA accommodate the demand?
A: We knew from the pre-registration numbers that these sessions would be full, so the first thing we did was ensure they would be held in the largest rooms we had available. While KSBA typically has an open seating policy at conferences, we took the additional step of closing registration once the room capacity was reached and offering these pre-registrants a window of opportunity to attend before we opened the room up for general seating.
For the majority of sessions we were able to accommodate most, if not everyone who was interested in attending. We were also able to add an additional set of “bonus” workshops on these three topics Friday afternoon and many members took advantage of them.
Q: Are there any misconceptions about the training that you can clear up at this point?
A: There are two misconceptions that I hear most often. The first is that board members had to have this training while at the Annual Conference and if they didn’t, it would be too late. While many board members did have a strong desire to meet this new mandate quickly, people actually have all of calendar year 2014 in which to do it. The Annual Conference was the first opportunity this year, but I can promise it won’t be the last.
The second misconception is that because an emphasis has been placed on these three topics, other topics are somehow less important. Nothing could be further from the truth.
While no one questions that finance, ethics and superintendent evaluation are areas boards need to understand, there is still a wide variety of subjects that must be addressed in order for board members to be most effective in their role.
To focus only on the mandated topics to the exclusion of everything else could create training deficits in other important areas of board work. It is more important than ever for members to take an active role in planning their professional development each year.
Q: What are some of the possibilities for offering these classes in other venues?
A: Plans are currently underway to provide training on these topics in a variety of locations and formats. For example, the mandated training will be provided at both the Summer Leadership Institute in July and the Winter Symposium in December as part of the regular conference agendas. Members can look forward to sessions on individual topics as well as a brand-new, three-hour session that will cover each of the three mandated areas in one place.
This option is ideal for board members with more than eight years of experience. We anticipate this three-hour option will be so popular that we are already planning it as a regular pre-conference feature beginning with the 2015 Annual Conference.
In addition to the planned statewide events, we’re discussing ways to integrate this training into the existing 12 KSBA Fall Regional Meetings and offering training regionally in cooperation with other state partners. For those board teams that want to learn together locally, KSBA can provide in-district training for an individual board team, and distance learning options such as online training modules and webinars are being developed and should be available in the near future. Board members can also receive training through KDE-approved providers. KSBA will continue working to create additional opportunities and will stay in touch with members as plans are finalized.
The changes to the training regulation created some growing pains for both the members and for KSBA because it forced a change in the status quo. It’s altered the way we now have to think about professional development. However, I strongly believe that as everyone gets more familiar with the new reality over the course of 2014, we’ll settle in to the new normal very quickly. It’s a great opportunity for KSBA to develop even better ways to meet our members’ needs and we will absolutely rise to the occasion.
Q: How is KSBA ramping up its training resources to cope with what might be more requests for on-site training?
A: We are already seeing an increase in the number of boards scheduling in-district training, so I’m glad KSBA has an infrastructure in place to meet the need. KSBA’s Training Cadre is an elite group of current and former school board members, superintendents and others with experience in school board work that provide training on our behalf. They use curricula and materials developed by KSBA and receive training from KSBA staff to keep them abreast of emerging issues, services and training courses.
Together they form a terrific network for school boards, each other and for us, and we call on them to do everything from training to reviewing draft materials and acting as a sounding board for questions and ideas. Because they are located throughout the state, it allows us to accommodate district requests in a more timely fashion and keep costs down because of reduced travel expenses. The entire cadre has been trained on the new ethics and superintendent evaluation modules, so I expect they will be staying very busy.
Q: Since these topics are now required annual training, will KSBA develop new classes on the topics every year so boards are not getting the same content each year?
A: When I first heard about the changes to mandated training this was my biggest concern. I think most every job holder has been subjected to the dreaded “annual training” session that might have been interesting the first few times around but has long since lost its appeal.
The challenge becomes how to develop multiple sessions on a single topic when the basic concepts remain the same. I think this is especially true with ethics and superintendent evaluation since most any training on them will require a consistent core of basic information.
The best way to address this is to keep the material as fresh as possible. That means having interactive sessions that tap into the experience and perspectives of each group as well as an ever-changing and updated set of examples, scenarios and applications that help participants look at information they may have seen in the past in a new way.
Finance will be easier to address because the world of school finance is so vast. We are planning different courses on everything from the basic financial principles that board members must know, to how to read financial statements, to what you need to know about tax rates and referendums.
We have a terrific partnership with the Kentucky Association of School Business Officials (KASBO) to help us identify and develop appropriate content and we are very excited about it. Not only will this ensure board members have access to the very best content and trainers, but it will help both organizations reach the goal of boards and district finance officers speaking the same language.
Q: How will these new requirements affect the Academy of Studies?
A: They say timing is everything and in this case it really was true. The current Academy of Studies has existed in its current format since 2008 and was slated for a review during 2014. Based on the last six years of feedback, we knew there were some tweaks we wanted to make, so it was really very easy to take the new requirements into consideration as part of that process. We felt it was important to reflect the new requirements in the Academy of Studies, so members will see changes to those topics in the new Academy catalog they received in January.
However, it is important to remember why the KSBA Academy of Studies was created in the first place. Its primary role is to prepare school board members to succeed in a new era of high expectations through a comprehensive, realistic and practical curriculum.
The heightened awareness of the three new areas of mandated training has pushed them into the spotlight, but the nature of what boards do hasn’t changed at all. To be effective still requires experience and training in many different topics, so there may not be as many changes to the program as some would expect given the new attention on these areas.
It would have been very easy to be reactive to the new requirements and have them over-represented in the Academy. As it stands now, I think we have a fantastic program.