Board Room

Board Room

Board Room: Leading from the front

School boards encouraged to join district staff with own evaluation system
Kentucky School Advocate
June 2015 
 
By Jennifer Wohlleb
Staff Writer
 
The process Kentucky school boards can use to better their own performance is itself getting better.
Several school boards will begin piloting a school board effectiveness system for self-evaluations this summer, created through a KSBA partnership with the Green River Regional Education Cooperative. It is part of GRREC’s multifaceted Race to the Top grant-funded project, which it shares with the Ohio Valley Educational Co-op.
 
“While school board member self-evaluation is not new in Kentucky – KSBA has provided a self-evaluation tool for years – the creation of a process that is research-based is going to expand what is currently available and I think set the stage for a national model,” said Kerri Schelling, KSBA’s director of Board Team Development.
 
She said the voluntary process will help board members identify areas of strength and improvement.
 
“Self-evaluation can be hard; it takes time and you have to be willing to put yourself out there,” she said. “But I think it’s critical to make sure each board member understands how to best fulfill their role and to make sure the public can have confidence that their elected board is doing exactly the job they were sent to do.”
 
How it works
Schelling said the process developed by KSBA has three elements: a set of effectiveness standards; a self-assessment tool to measure effectiveness; and an improvement protocol for boards to develop to maintain continuing growth. Each board member receives the self-evaluation tool, goes through it individually and rates his or her performance. The board then comes together and talks about areas of overlap, and any similarities and differences in responses.
 
“We want to make sure that the self-evaluation isn’t a one-time activity, but an ongoing professional learning tool,” she said. “We want it to become part of the culture of the school board that they take periodic self-examinations and reflections to determine whether or not they are performing at the level that both they and their public expects.”
 
The tool is patterned after the Superintendent Professional Growth and Effectiveness System, in that for each standard, there are indicators that describe what effectively engaging in that standard looks like.
 
“Board members should be able to look at these indicators and say, ‘Yes, I do this,’ or, ‘No, I don’t,’” Schelling said. “It uses language boards are familiar with and it does not contain a lot of jargon. I think any board in the state is going to be able to look at it, relate to it and use it because it’s so straightforward. And that was by design; we set out to create something that would not be intimidating for any board.”
 
She said the tool was created with the help of Dr. Thomas Alsbury, a top expert nationally in school governance. He has studied school board effectiveness for years and contributed to the seminal Iowa Lighthouse Study, which identified the traits of school boards in high-achieving school districts.
“Having his involvement really allowed us to hit the ground running and build on some of his research by making it Kentucky specific,” she said. “
 
Out front
With the creation of the state’s PGES for superintendents, principals and teachers, choosing to use their own evaluation system is a good way for school boards to lead by example.
 
“If staff and employees know that the board is also on a journey of improvement, it makes it easier on them to know they are not alone in the work,” Schelling said. “If it’s a team effort, then everyone needs to be involved to the degree that is appropriate. And school board self-evaluation is not only appropriate, but critical to success.”
 
In addition to helping school boards be more effective, this process also can help the public better understand the role of school board members. “It should demystify the role, clarify the role, because the standards are very clear,” Schelling said.
 
And there are no right or wrong answers in the self-evaluation or any kind of punitive measures.
 
“You determine where your threshold of performance is; it’s up to that board to decide what they want it to be for them collectively,” Schelling said. “That is powerful when you can control how that document is used.”
 
And with the guidance of the self-evaluation, board members can make better decisions about their professional development needs. “I think this will help boards be better consumers of training because they are going to know what areas they should focus on,” Schelling said.
 
Up to six GRREC and Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative school boards are being selected to pilot the self-evaluation system. Once the tool is finalized, the remaining GRREC and OVEC districts that are participating in the grant will begin to use the system, possibly this fall. Schelling said if all goes well, it could be available to all Kentucky school boards by spring.

Board view: Setting an example

No matter how long you have been a school board member, it never hurts to take a fresh look at yourself.
 
With the help of KSBA, Berea Independent’s board of education went through a self-evaluation last fall to make sure members were on the right track.
 
“We really wanted to see how well we made decisions together and a whole host of things we wanted to get to the bottom of,” said board Chairman Van Gravitt. “I think we were very happy overall with the work we did with KSBA. It affirmed some things that we already knew, but it was good to have an outside source do that.”
 
Linda Wagers, who has been on the board for 17 years and was a teacher in the district for 30 years, said you don’t learn everything as a board member in four years.
 
“The self-evaluation was good; it made me think a little bit more about different things,” she said. “I thought it was interesting, but it didn’t really surprise me because we have always had a good working relationship with the superintendent since I came on. Everybody who has served, I felt, like was there for the student.”
 
Gravitt said the board has discussed conducting a self-evaluation every three or four years.
 
“We thought it was a good idea because everyone else from teachers to principals to superintendents are being evaluated and that didn’t seem fair for us to not at least look and see how we’re doing,” he said. “I think it’s something that we will want to do again because it keeps us looking at ourselves as much as we ask other people to look at what they’re doing.”
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