Articles in the Leadership Conference 2013 category

Leadership and alignment improve Latino student achievement

One of the first tasks of Robert Arias did when he accepted the superintendency in Bakersfield, Calif., was to work with the school board to align the board’s values and goals with the work of the central office and the school improvement plans at each campus.

“Clarity precedes competence,” Arias told attendees at a Hispanic Caucus Breakout Session on Sunday at NSBA’s annual conference titled, “Leadership Through Governance: Aligning Practice and Culture to Improve Latino Student Outcomes.”

Aligning every stage of a school district’s efforts is necessary if school officials are going to be efficient and focused on improvement, he said. “Otherwise, you’ve got the board doing its thing, the superintendent doing his thing, and maybe what gets overlooked are the issues they need to work on.”

This alignment starts with the school board, Arias said. “They really must set the tone. It’s up to them to bring in the superintendent and sit down together and work it out.”

In Bakersfield, where Hispanics comprise 78 percent of student enrollment, “the board really was interested in aligning its efforts, he said. “Things weren’t happening as they should, and the problem was things weren’t aligned.”

The power of alignment can be seen in how the school system has dealt with the issue of student disciplinary issues, he said.

One of the four values articulated by the school board is equity, and in the process of setting specific district goals, one issue that came to the forefront was the disproportionate suspension rates of black students. This led the district to drill down into the data, which helped guide district and school strategies to tackle the issue.

The first step of administrators was to seek alternative strategies, including offering positive reinforcement for students, to deal with misbehavior—and that did help cut suspension rates by 46 percent in a single year. But a closer look at the data, Arias said, revealed that black students still were three times as likely to be suspended as white students.

But with the values and goals clear, he said, district and school administrators remain focused on the issue and this summer will be providing cultural proficiency training to help principals and teachers learn better techniques “to combat biases that impede student success.”

Another strategy, which also will boost student learning, was the creation of professional learning communities in each school, Arias said.

That focus also is key, he said. In a visit to China, Arias recalled, he looked out the window at a forest of construction cranes across the city and thought to himself, “These people are gearing up to take over the world.”

The latest international test scores underscored his concern, as China ranked near the top of such tests and the U.S. was far down the list.

“The point is, this is no longer somebody else’s problem” if minority students and students of poverty aren’t academically successful, he said. “We have to find the solutions … or we’re not going to keep pace.”

Del Stover|April 14th, 2013|Categories: Governance, Student Achievement, NSBA Annual Conference 2013, Leadership Conference 2013|

Gettysburg offers lessons in school leadership

On the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Union cavalry commander John Buford rode into the small Pennsylvania town with 2,900 men—and soon realized he was facing an attacking Confederate force of 13,500. It was not an ideal situation.

But what came next offers a useful lesson for school leaders today. Rather than bemoan his lack of resources, Buford made the most of the men under his command—and successfully delayed the Confederate advance long enough for Union reinforcements to arrive.

“Successful leaders make the most of the resources and assets at hand,” said Michael McGough, an associate professor of education at Pennsylvania’s York College and amateur historian. At Gettysburg, Buford “got the most out of what was at his disposal.”

That was Lesson 3 of McGough’s Sunday morning presentation, “Leadership Under Fire: Lessons from the Battle of Gettysburg,” the closing general session of the NSBA’s Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C.

It may seem unusual to seek education leadership information from a 150-year-old battle fought with rifled muskets and horse-drawn cannon. But McGough argued that the decisions made at Gettysburg—the pivotal battle of the Civil War—still offer significant lessons for 21st century leaders.

One of those lessons, McGough said, is that “great leaders know, understand, can articulate, and hold steadfast to an end goal.”

Abraham Lincoln showed such resolve, he said. Since the beginning of the war, the president had made clear that his goal was to preserve the union—and all his decisions served to advance that goal.

“Good leaders, the best leaders, know how to do that,” McGough said. “The best leaders hold steadfast to the end goal. In your boardrooms, in your discussions, at your board retreats … somebody has got to have that end goal in mind, somebody has to get up and say, ‘This is where we need to end up.’”

Another important lesson from the battle is that strong leaders can offer and accept hard truths, he said. One mistake Gen. Robert E. Lee made during the battle was his failure to heed the blunt warning of his corps commander, Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, that what was to become known as “Pickett’s Charge” was an attack doomed to failure.

“It can be difficult, in a power situation, to accept the truth,” McGough said. What’s more, “in your careers and your service on boards, you have come to situations where you knew something had to be said … you were afraid of a change that was needed, a danger that was approaching. It can be difficult to tell truth to power.”

At Gettysburg, he noted, Longstreet showed great courage in speaking his mind to Lee, who paid a high price for dismissing the warning. The subsequent attack resulted in more than 8,000 Confederate casualties and ended any hope of a Southern victory.

In the aftermath of the battle, the actions of the rival army commanders underscored another valuable lesson: “Real leaders know what comes next and they are prepared to act on that knowledge.”

The Union Commander, Gen. George Meade, showed no such understanding of this maxim after the battle. Content that his army was intact, McGough said, Meade failed to follow up his victory and pursue the shattered Confederate force. Meanwhile, Lee fully recognized the need to retreat and successfully preserved his army—a feat that historians say allowed the Confederacy to continue the war for almost two more years.

The final lesson that McGough shared was that the “best leaders understand and use the power of their words.”

No better example of this lesson exists than the Gettysburg Address, in which Lincoln, in fewer than 300 words, laid out the policy foundation for Reconstruction and, arguably, shaped the evolution of the nation to this day.

“Abraham Lincoln set the stage to heal an entire nation, a nation that had suffered more casualties in this one war than any all others combined,” McGough said. “He knew the power of words and … used them.”

Del Stover|January 27th, 2013|Categories: Governance, Leadership Conference 2013|Tags: , , , , , , |

New federal nutrition rules caused a ‘buzz’

So many parents have complained that school meal portions are too meager—and that their children are hungry and tired by the end of the school day—that Congress is beginning to pay attention.

That’s one of several developments that are keeping policymakers busy more than two years after passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, said Lucy Gettman, NSBA’s director of federal programs.

Speaking at a Saturday briefing to NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) in Washington, D.C., Gettman told urban education leaders that the new federal rules on school meals that went into effect this year caused “quite a buzz.”

Although some expected the biggest complaint would center on inadequate financial support for new and costly mandates, Gettman said the most notable criticism has focused on the size of federally reimbursable school meals as mandated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Designed as a tool to combat the nation’s childhood obesity problem, the strict calorie limits on meals has prompted tens of thousands of letters and phone calls to members of Congress.

“Parents, students, and other citizens were giving their members of Congress an earful,” Gettman said, noting that one online music video mocking the meal rules has gotten more than 1 million viewers.

The protests prompted the House Committee on Education and Workforce to send a letter asking the U.S. Government Accounting Office to look into the impact of the new law and the USDA rules.

In the letter were a “pretty thorough list of questions, and I think it will really be helpful to Congress once they get a report back,” Gettman said. “It can guide Congress on future policy.”

The public outcry already has prompted the USDA to grant schools some relief in meeting federal guidelines, she added, “but the relief is only temporary” as that the rules were waived only for the rest of this school year.

Another issue still unresolved is what federal standards will exist for “competitive foods”—food sold in vending machines or at concession stands at school athletic events, Gettman said. Those rules—which USDA has yet to release in draft form—could affect the revenue that schools use to support athletic, food-service, and other programs.

School policymakers also are waiting for draft rules concerning the training and certification of food-service personnel.

USDA has indicated it’s going to do “everything in its power so that these standards won’t be costly,” Gettman said. “But the proof is in the pudding.”

Del Stover|January 27th, 2013|Categories: Urban Schools, Obesity, Nutrition, Legislative advocacy, CUBE, Leadership Conference 2013, FRN Conference 2013|Tags: , , , |

New USDA regulations present challenges to urban districts

Some challenges confront urban school districts seeking to comply with the new, more healthy oriented regulations mandated for school meals by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

It turns out that some kids don’t like the healthier cafeteria fare—and won’t eat it. Parents complain that strict, new calorie portions are too stingy for high school students—and their children are going hungry during the day.

Finally, school food-service directors are warning that cooking healthier meals is more costly than the additional 6 cents that USDA has promised to help comply with its new mandates.

Yet school districts are finding ways to cope, a panel of school board members and school food-service experts told urban leaders attending a Saturday workshop for NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE).

The session was an Early Bird offering of NSBA’s Federal Relations Network (FRN) Annual Conference, which starts today in Washington, D.C.

Convincing students to eat the new daily portions of fruits and vegetables mandated for federally reimbursed school meals—as well as other healthier fare—requires a calculated redesign of school recipes and changes in food preparation, panelists said.

Virginia’s Hampton City Schools are working with local restaurant chefs to learn new preparation techniques and relying on student taste-testings to find recipes that will win over students, said school board member Monica Smith.

The district also is seeking to change student attitudes by educating them about nutrition, as well as revamping cafeterias with smaller serving lines and a more aesthetic, restaurant-oriented appearance that makes the school meal experience more appealing, she said.

Improving menus and cutting operational costs will require more professional development—and not just for managers and cooks, added Amy Virus, assistant food-services director for the Philadelphia Public Schools. Under new USDA regulations, school meals are not federally reimbursable if students don’t have the mandatory fruit and vegetable servings on their food trays—and the cafeteria staff has to stay atop of student choices.

“It’s a huge change for us,” she said. “For our cashiers, for our line staff … so we’ve really focused on training, talking about new meal patterns.”

The USDA is reconsidering the controversial calorie counts it imposed on school meals, but the cost issue remains a challenge to be overcome, panelists say. Some school districts are complaining the price of healthier foods is proving greater than the additional financial support provided by USDA.

A drop in participation can exacerbate the challenges created by rising costs, a phenomenon reported by some school lunch programs. But, in Hampton, Smith said, food-service personnel are looking for ways to cut costs—and have managed to increase in participation as cafeterias fine-tune their healthier fare to meet student tastes.

So healthier school meals aren’t necessarily a negative—simply a new challenge that requires new practices, panelists said. But school boards can make a big difference in whether these challenges ultimately are met.

Boards need to set the priority, put district wellness programs in place, and hold food-service personnel accountable, Smith said. But also “listen to the trained staff and give them the flexibility to do the job … let them be creative [while] we show our support.”

Del Stover|January 27th, 2013|Categories: Urban Schools, Food Service, Legislative advocacy, CUBE, Leadership Conference 2013, FRN Conference 2013|Tags: , , |

School board associations help in times of crisis

Robert J. Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE), was having lunch with a friend when he heard the news about Newtown.

“You feel it emotionally. You feel it physically,” Rader said Saturday at NSBA’s Leadership Conference’s Second General Session on serving your members in times of crisis. “That changed everything.”

Except, of course, the duty of CABE to do everything it could to support Newtown’s schools and its member districts across the state. School board members usually think that student achievement is their highest calling, Rader said. But crises like the one in Newtown remind us that securing the well-being of students is a prerequisite, the number one job.

The shootings happened on a Friday; by Saturday night, Rader and his staff had posted information for school board members on how to try to prevent such as tragedy, and how to deal with shootings and the aftermath.

Rader was joined in the Saturday session by Michael Waldrop, executive director of the Mississippi School Boards Association, and Lawrence Feinsod, executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association.

The devastation of Hurricane Katrina is still very much in Waldrop’s mind. While New Orleans got the most attention, little Bay Saint Louis, on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, was “ground zero” for the storm, which pushed 12-foot tide surges as far as 12 miles inland.

“And when it went out to the Gulf of Mexico, it carried everything with it,” Waldrop said.

Throughout the region, homes and many schools were reduced to mere slabs. “How do we start school when we don’t even have buildings?” – that was the refrain of some superintendents.

The association responded by contacting makers of modular units, as well as tent venders, and distributed the information to all affected school districts so overwhelmed officials wouldn’t have to do that research themselves. The association opened a trust fund to buy relief supplies. A modest $150,000 was collected, but that money went far.

“We’re trying to set our office up. We need 20 computers,” one superintendent told Waldrop, and he said. ”The next day they had 20 computers.”

New Jersey sustained $37 billion in damage from Superstorm Sandy last fall. Even the school boards association had to close for five days because it was without power, Feinsod said. When it was up and running, he added, “we knew we had to do something, and we had to do it quickly.”

Over the course of 72 hours, Feinsod and his staff contacted all 586 school districts in the state, a mammoth undertaking that got results.

“One group reached out to us in this very complex state,” one school official told Feinsod. “And it was the school boards association.”

Lawrence Hardy|January 26th, 2013|Categories: Governance, Crisis Management, Board governance, State School Boards Associations, Leadership Conference 2013|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Speaker gives tips on creating a change-friendly culture

Jim Bearden is an authority on change. You might say he wrote the book on change, or at least a book: The Relentless Search for Better Ways. But last summer, when the popular speaker, consultant, and fitness buff heard these sobering words from his cardiologist, all those lofty ideas about accepting and embracing change were put to the test:

“I don’t like what I’m seeing” the doctor said.

Bearden’s artery was 80 percent clogged. He had open heart surgery, and was told by his doctor to become a vegan (“You know what a vegan means?” the native Texan said. “It means if it has a Momma or a face on it, you can’t eat it.”)

Bearden changed his diet, big-time, and did indeed become a vegan; but here’s the interesting thing: faced with similar life-threatening diagnosis and calls to change their lifestyles, he said, only 10 percent of patients would comply.

The same aversion to change is present when individuals get together –in businesses, associations, and other institutions, Bearden said at the opening general session of NSBA’s Leadership Conference Saturday. And it can be equally fatal. Faced with change, “some do what I call hunker down and hope,” Bearden said. But others “look for ways to win, regardless of the hands they’re dealt.”

It is these organizations that are successful.

Bearden outlined seven steps that create a change-friendly culture in an organization. First, ensure that others — your employees, for example — understand what you expect from them. And, if you run a state association, be sure you know what your members expect from you. That requires communication, not just selling your organization.

“It’s a whole lot more about asking and listening than pitching and hoping,” Bearden said.

Among the other steps: identify and eliminate barriers to the behavior you expect, model that behavior, measure performance using your expectations as standards, and honor effort and progress. The goal is to create an organization in which taking well-considered risks is embedded in the culture.

“To me, culture is to an association what attitude is to an individual,” Bearden said.

Risk-taking – change – means there will be setbacks, Bearden said. It comes with the territory.

“The choices you make regarding those setbacks count more.”

Lawrence Hardy|January 26th, 2013|Categories: Governance, School Boards, Board governance, Leadership, Leadership Conference 2013|Tags: |

School security changed in the wake of Sandy Hook

How will school security change in the wake of the Newtown school shootings? It may be too early to know the long-term effects of the tragedy on schools, but in the short-term, at least, conversations about school safety have intensified in its aftermath.

Patrice McCarthy, deputy executive director and general counsel of Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, spoke to school board association leaders at NSBA’s Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., Saturday afternoon on how her state association responded after the Newtown shootings.

McCarthy was joined by Francisco M. Negrón Jr, NSBA’s general counsel, and Jay Worona, general counsel and director of legal and policy services of the New York State School Boards Association.

Negrón pointed out that since the 1999 Columbine shootings, most school security has focused on indentifying disenfranchised students who could potentially become violent. However, after Sandy Hook, school boards and other education leaders are now looking at how to deal with threats from outside the school.

“We need to be aware of both,” said Negrón, “and assess both threat levels.”

School boards need to make sure district safety plans are up to date. Negrón recommended that such plans be reviewed, if not yearly, then at least every two years. “Safety plans must be real and dynamic,” he said. “Don’t put them on the shelf. Review them on a regular basis to make sure they meet your needs.”

Boards also should take the pulse of their community before taking measures such as hiring armed guards for schools. When you don’t talk to people, said Worona, the presumption is that you haven’t done anything. “We need to make sure people understand we can’t make our schools safe to the point that nothing will ever happen, but we do need to make them as safe as possible,” he said.

School board associations and individual school boards should know that national support is available to help after tragedies, said McCarthy. CABE received hundreds of telephone calls and offers of support within hours of the Sandy Hook news breaking, including from NSBA.

NSBA has a list of resources on school security, including articles from American School Board Journal, available here.

Kathleen Vail|January 26th, 2013|Categories: School Law, Crisis Management, School Security, Council of School Attorneys, State School Boards Associations, Leadership Conference 2013|Tags: , , , , , , , |

NSBA Honors Ohio School Board Association Leader with National Award

Richard Lewis, executive director of the Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA), received the 2013 Thomas A. Shannon Award for Excellence from the National School Boards Association (NSBA). Lewis was honored at NSBA’s Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., on Saturday.

The award, established in 1997 in honor of former NSBA Executive Director Thomas A. Shannon, is given annually to recognize extraordinary efforts performed on behalf of NSBA, local school board constituencies, and school communities.

Lewis’ leadership at OSBA has helped thousands of Ohio school board members reach their goals and improve the services they provide their students and schools.

“Rick Lewis is the quintessential executive director,” said NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel. “Rick combines extraordinary ability, a broad base of knowledge and experience, and last but not least, a wonderful sense of humor. He has a disarming way of making a point and helping others to think in new ways. He is an effective leader because when he speaks, he actually has something important to say, and when he moves on an issue, he knows where he is going. His selection as recipient of the Shannon Award is very well deserved.”

Lewis joined OSBA in 1984 as a Labor Relations Specialist. He has also served as OSBA’s Deputy Executive Director, Director of Communication and Information Services, Director of Labor Relations and Management Services, Business and Marketing Manager, and Policy Specialist. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Business Administration from Ohio University.


Joetta Sack-Min|January 26th, 2013|Categories: Announcements, Leadership, School Board News, State School Boards Associations, Leadership Conference 2013|Tags: , , |

Two federal meetings feature leadership and legislative advocacy for school boards

Over the next four days, School Board News Today will be covering the top events and sessions at NSBA’s annual Leadership Conference and its Federal Relations Network (FRN) Conference, held in Washington, D.C.

The NSBA Leadership Conference, held Jan. 26 to 27, is a two-day networking and professional development event designed to explore issues and opportunities related to state school board association leadership and management. The conference brings about 200 people to Washington, D.C., including the NSBA Board of Directors and state school boards association officers as identified by the executive director.

The annual FRN Conference, which runs from Jan. 27 to 29, brings more than 600 school board members, selected by their state associations, and state association staff to Washington to learn about the most current federal policies and issues that will impact their schools. This year, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) are scheduled to speak at the conference.

Participants will spend a day meeting with their representatives on Capitol Hill to further discuss federal issues and pending legislation and advocate for the needs of their school districts.

In addition, NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education members will meet concurrently on important issues for urban schools.

Keep reading School Board News Today for highlights from these activities.

Kathleen Vail|January 26th, 2013|Categories: Governance, School Boards, Federal Programs, Urban Schools, Board governance, Legislative advocacy, CUBE, Federal Advocacy, State School Boards Associations, Leadership Conference 2013, FRN Conference 2013|Tags: , |
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