Three urban school districts: Maryland’s Baltimore City Public Schools and Prince George’s County Public Schools and Nevada’s Washoe County Public Schools have been named finalists for the 2012 National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) Annual Award for Urban School Board Excellence.
“This year’s CUBE award finalists clearly demonstrate effective board leadership driven by raising student achievement,” said Anne L. Bryant, executive director of NSBA. “These school boards have focused on policymaking, are driven by an accountability system which makes student learning and success their number one goal. They have demonstrated strong leadership—with the goal of improving the quality of education offered in their schools.”
CUBE showcases excellence in school board governance every year by presenting the Annual Award for Urban School Board Excellence. Award winners share their ideas and promote effective techniques at CUBE conferences and through CUBE publications. These districts serve as a resource for other CUBE districts, sharing best practices to help all urban districts improve.
The three finalists were selected by an independent judging panel based on materials submitted by the school district, independent follow-up research, and information provided by the district’s state school boards association. The judges selected the finalists based on the following four criteria: excellence in school board governance, building civic capacity, closing the achievement gap—equity in education, and demonstrated success of academic excellence.
About the Finalists:
Baltimore City Public Schools
For many schools to stay open in Baltimore, it is essential to have the support of students and families. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a traditional school operated by the school district or a charter school run by an outside group. School choice is the mantra of the city school board, and under its new school funding formula, the money follows the child. This vision for the Baltimore City Public Schools makes it one of the most aggressive nationwide in restructuring itself for the 21st century.
Breaking with the top-down management model of the past, the school board and its CEO, Andrés Alonso, have chosen to dramatically decentralize decision-making. Individual schools now have a large degree of autonomy over budgeting and operations, and the central office’s role is being repositioned to one of providing guidance, support, and accountability.
The district’s success speaks for itself. High school graduation rates hit a record high in recent years, while dropout rates declined. In four years, the district boosted reading scores by 21.7 percent in grades three to eight, while math scores rose 28.4 percent. More students now enroll in Advanced Placement classes, and efforts to expand preschool programs increased the number of children arriving in kindergarten “ready to learn” by 15.5 percent.
Prince George’s County Public Schools
With 127,000 students, Prince George’s is among the Top 20 districts in nation in terms of enrollment size. No doubt, some students were getting a good education when the new board took over in 2006. But in a predominately minority district were more than half the students receive federally subsidized lunches, those students tended to live primarily in the wealthier sections of the county; a large portion of the others were being left behind.
The board and former superintendent focused on a “five-pronged vision” for high student achievement, highly effective teaching, safe and supporting schools, strong community partnerships, and effective and efficient operations. In order to better serve all students, the board in 2010 implemented “Student Based Budgeting,” a system that allocates money based not only on the number of students enrolled in a school but also on the particular needs of those students. Poverty would no longer be an excuse for not providing an equitable education for all.
The payoff has come in test results, with scores on the Maryland School Assessment rising in both reading and math. Between 2007 and 2011, for example, fifth-grade proficiency rates have increased from 61.8 percent to 83.9 percent in reading, and from 64.5 percent to 72.6 percent in math. Test scores are one thing. But equally important is a new spirit in the county and a sense of unity emanating from what a few years ago would have been a most unlikely place: the local school board.
Washoe County Public Schools
The academic gains at Washoe County School District are certainly impressive: graduation rates rose from 56 percent in 2008 to 70 percent in 2011; the achievement gap closed as third-grade math and reading scores for African-American and Hispanic students jumped double digits; and the classes at all Title I schools can now boast of being led by highly proficient teachers. Though the results deservedly get all the attention, they believe the careful planning and foundation it was built upon, which began with the board recognizing it could and should expect more from its students, its staff and itself.
The exhaustive research, data analyses, and community input served as the basis of a five-point reform initiative that aimed to institute performance management systems; engage parents and the community; develop effective teachers and instructional leaders; instill a caring and positive school climate; and ensure all students leave ready for college and careers.
“Envision WCSD 2015, Investing in Our Future,” their strategic plan was rolled out slowly, methodically among its staff, who worked in committees and groups to work toward the goals and internalize the message. With employees embracing the new mission, district officials could now turn to selling the value proposition to the public — developing key messages based on its mission, identifying and segmenting its target audience, using a variety of communication tools and channels, and most importantly, developing communications plans that foster two-way communications.
CUBE represents a total of more than 100 urban school districts in 35 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The districts that comprise CUBE educate nearly 7.5 million students in over 12,000 schools, with a collective budget of approximately $99 billion. CUBE helps urban school boards find solutions to challenges at the local level and helps them to strengthen their policy making effectiveness.