Trained for Turnaround

Trained for Turnaround

Trained for Turnaround

Intensive work with school board in state-managed Breathitt County district makes a difference
Kentucky School Advocate
September 2015
By Madelynn Coldiron
Staff writer 
When the state education department took over management of troubled school districts in the past, state managers ran day-to-day operations – finances, personnel, instruction – on behalf of the state’s education commissioner.

The school board, relegated to an advisory role, did not receive that same kind of focus.

That changed with state management of the Breathitt County school district, begun in December 2012. As Breathitt County completed its second year under state control, KSBA began providing first-of-its-kind intensive training targeted to the needs the board itself identified.
PHOTO: KSBA Board Team Development specialist Jean Crowley discusses a point with Breathitt County school board Chairwoman Ruschelle Hamilton following the board’s July 28 meeting. At left is board secretary Stacy McKnight.
“I think it’s working great,” said Hiren Desai, associate commissioner of the state education department’s Office of Administration and Support, who recruited KSBA in January this year to work with the Breathitt County board after it had asked for training. He praised the work of KSBA Board Team Development specialist Jean Crowley, who has made regular trips to the district to provide the in-depth training.

“One of the most important pieces was that we wanted the Breathitt County board members to have a say in what they felt their needs were,” Crowley said. At a retreat, the board and KSBA laid the groundwork and also used board self-evaluations completed by each member to identify strengths and areas for growth, Crowley said.

This information was developed into a training calendar for 2015, using KSBA’s Leadership Guide and its Academy of Studies as a foundation.

“What KSBA wanted to do was provide the members of that board with opportunities to develop their knowledge and skills to become an effective board team,” Crowley said. The board’s initial focus was on finance and holding efficient board meetings.

Crowley usually travels to the district twice a month, once to train, the other to attend board meetings to provide input and governance coaching based on her observations.

The on-site training is an advantage, said board member Rebecca Watkins and board Vice Chairman Albert Little. They said it is easier for the board to learn more in that setting about finances, ethics and other areas.

“The financial part has been a boon to me, in helping plan the budgets and things,” Little said.

Board members receive training at KSBA conferences, but Desai agreed there are advantages to on-site training.

“The issues we’re giving training on are important – it’s governance and finance. For new board members, you can’t overemphasize the fundamentals,” Desai said. “This board has not had an opportunity to work together as a full board of education – two of these board members came on board right at the beginning of state management – so the more we can build their confidence, and the more we can build their capacity, the more equipped they’re going to be to take back over from us when we leave.”

Two other board members are relatively new: Chairwoman Ruschelle Hamilton was appointed to the board just a few months before state management began and a fourth member, George Johnson, took office in January 2015.

Hamilton said the training is “very detailed, comprehensive. Jean’s there to answer the questions that we have and guide us through the issues we feel like we need to address.”

To give Breathitt board members “a vision” for getting out of state management and an example to follow, Crowley invited Floyd County Schools Superintendent Henry Webb and board Chairman Jeff Stumbo to talk to them about how that district worked its way back to self-governance.

The teamwork aspect of working with Crowley, a former Danville Independent school board member, also is important to the Breathitt board.

“It feels like she’s an ally to us, she sees what we’re going through, understands it and can help guide and direct us,” Hamilton said, adding the sense of trust allowed the board to be more receptive to the training.

“I actually feel more involved,” Watkins said. “I feel like we’re more whole as a board and I feel like we all have the same intentions.”

Johnson said he would recommend the process for any district, “whether they were having troubles or not.”

Newly hired superintendent David Gibson praised the expertise the board has developed through the training. “I think it’s going to benefit our district and benefit our students tremendously,” he said.

State management of the district will continue to September 2017, at which time the Kentucky Board of Education will evaluate whether state management is still required.
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