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JCPS board explores ways to be more effective

JCPS board explores ways to be more effective

July 16th, 2017 by Phillip Sitter in Local News

Jefferson City Public Schools administration building at 315 E. Dunklin St.

The Jefferson City School District's Board of Education on Monday briefly discussed some ideas of how to make the board more effective and to educate local legislators about the realities of public education today.

The board is working on two ideas: the first, "A Day with JCPS" event for state lawmakers; the second, a leadership retreat for board members.

"Both of these ideas stem from a desire to make sure we've got the highest functioning board possible," President Steve Bruce told the News Tribune.

"We can really offer an opportunity for legislators to get some direct information devoid of any social or political agenda about what public education looks like today, what some of the challenges are," Bruce said of the day with legislators idea.

"That's not something we've taken advantage of in the past," he said.

Although he said the board is appreciative of state efforts to fully fund the education foundation formula that supports public schools, bills like those about tax credit scholarship funds and the expansion of charter schools that were in the Legislature last session show them that public education is under close scrutiny.

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Though those bills did not pass this time in session, such policy ideas all fall under the family of pro-school choice measures favored by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos too; it's foreseeable they may come up for debate again.

Bruce said while policy is often born out of good intentions, it's easy for lawmakers to make decisions that lead to unintended consequences of bad outcomes or ones that only add to the challenges educators already face.

"What we need (legislators) to be aware of is the quality of the proposals that are being debated in the future," he said, before he added, "if we can reach out and give our elected folks some better information, then that will lead to better quality proposals and better discussion."

While school board members do not have a political action committee — the largest group of elected officials in the state as they are — "what we do have is knowledge."

He would like for legislators to walk the halls of a school in Jefferson City for a few hours, eat lunch and sit down and talk with teachers and counselors around a table to get straight-forward feedback.

"Most everybody remembers school the way it was when we were in it," but those memories and perceptions may not align with the realities of education after 10-20 years, he said.

Though the event would primarily be aimed at attracting legislators from local districts, "if we can accommodate them, folks are more than welcome to come" from districts farther afield.

He's hoping the board can host the event before legislative bills are filed at the end of the year, but also far enough into the year that teachers, students and staff have settled into their routines at school.

There's no definitive date yet for the event. Tentatively, a day or day and a half-long leadership retreat for the board is set for mid to late October, though it may be pushed back to early November per events on board members' calendars.

"I feel very good about where we are as a board right now" in terms of collaboration, Bruce said, but success is "going to take an even greater commitment to excellence than what the board has shown to date.

"I'm not content with just stopping negative trends, because I think we've done that."

He added that, "I didn't run just for our schools to be good enough, and I know no other board member did either."

The retreat won't be anything flashy, he said, not "hanging out at Camden on the Lake for the week." It may be at a local venue; the district has facilities the board can use. There hasn't been much logistical talk yet, though Bruce also acknowledged sometimes physical distance from what's familiar can facilitate straight-forward conversations.

The goal of the retreat would be to focus on developing characteristics of successful boards, some of which the JCPS board does already, he said.

He specifically cited a list of eight characteristics of effective school boards published by the Center for Public Education — a Washington, D.C.-area-based initiative of the National School Boards Association.

Those eight characteristics state effective school boards:

  • "Commit to a vision of high expectations for student achievement and quality instruction and define clear goals toward that vision;"
  • "Have strong shared beliefs and values about what is possible for students and their ability to learn, and of the system and its ability to teach all children at high levels;"
  • "Are accountability driven, spending less time on operational issues and more time focused on policies to improve student achievement;"
  • "Have a collaborative relationship with staff and the community and establish a strong communications structure to inform and engage both internal and external stakeholders in setting and achieving district goals;"
  • "Are data savvy; they embrace and monitor data, even when the information is negative, and use it to drive continuous improvement;"
  • "Align and sustain resources, such as professional development, to meet district goals;"
  • "Lad as a united team with the superintendent, each from their respective roles, with strong collaboration and mutual trust;"
  • And "take part in team development and training, sometimes with their superintendents, to build shared knowledge, values and commitments for their improvement efforts."

The board's going to work on data savviness at its work session on July 24.

Bruce said he and Superintendent Larry Linthacum hope to have details for the retreat and the day with legislators ironed out by the first half of August.

He said that no legislators have been contacted yet, awaiting the specific details of that event.