Articles tagged with CABE

School board leadership DOES matter

An editorial by Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education:

The Fordham Institute, whose president, Chester Finn, has called the school board “an aberration, an anachronism, an educational sinkhole” that should be put “out of its misery,” recently published a report, “Does School Board Leadership Matter?

It definitely contradicts the spirit of Finn’s previous comments.

The document lists information that we have known ever since the original Iowa Lighthouse Initiative was released: School boards, particularly their attitudes on student learning, are an important element of student success. Other information points us to what we must do to ensure that boards are relevant, effective, and beneficial.

The report comes at a critical time for executive directors from state school boards associations who have been involved in attempting to discern what the board of tomorrow will be like. It gives us an idea of what boards need to do to accomplish their primary goal: increasing student achievement and growth.

I believe it also implicitly supports the idea of boards of education, with all of their warts, is the most effective way in which to govern almost all school districts.

Report authors Arnold F. Shober and Michael T. Hartney started with information from “a national [2009] survey of 900 school board members situated across 417 unique school districts.” They combined this information with demographic and student achievement data for the same districts.

Here’s what they found. The bolded sentences below indicate findings from the study. Other comments are mine.

1. Board members, by and large, possess accurate information about their districts and adopt work practices that are generally similar across districts. But there is little consensus about which goals should be central.

The fact that board members have good information about their districts is a hugely significant fact. Without such data, whether provided by the administration or by other board members or from the community is central to making good decisions.

Unfortunately, while the report states that in school finance, teacher pay, collective bargaining, and class size board members have “reasonable knowledge of district conditions,” they “appear less knowledgeable about the rigor (or lack thereof) of academic standards in their respective state.”

2. Districts that are more successful academically have board members who assign high priority to improving student learning. School boards that comprise a higher proportion of members who have an academic focus are, all else being equal, more likely to govern districts that “beat the odds”—that is, districts whose students perform better academically than one would expect, given their demographic and financial characteristics.

Thirty years ago, the focus of boards across the country was on issues such as collective bargaining, the termination of underperforming teachers, and fiscal matters. Today, more focus is on student achievement, measured in standardized test scores and in other ways. However, we still have not identified what those “other ways” are. The public basically only sees and reacts to the test results.

Districts that are “punching above their weights” (my phrase), are those that have embraced raising student achievement as the central goal of the board. While all boards are affected by such factors as politics, funding, and other issues, those that focus on academics do the best, which is what the original Lighthouse study taught us a decade ago.

On the other hand, the study is based on the 2009 survey. I would hope that today, with all of the discussion of Common Core and five more years of discussion of increasing student achievement, there would be an even stronger recognition of the importance of increasing achievement.

3. Political moderates tend to be more informed than liberals and conservatives when it comes to money matters; educators and former educators are less informed.

This is a particularly interesting finding. While the report found “strong evidence that both knowledge and focus are shaped by board members’ occupational background and political ideology,” which is no surprise, it also found that political liberals “are more likely than moderates or conservatives to place less focus on improving student learning, believing instead that schools serve many goals.”

On the other hand, conservatives “do not subscribe to either an academic or plural focus, suggesting that their priorities may lie in financial stewardship (or other matters) rather than in student learning or other outcomes.”

4. At-large, on-cycle elections are associated with districts that beat the odds.

This would appear to be good news for Connecticut, where almost all school board elections occur in conjunction with general elections. The report did not examine the effect of board members running on political lines, which comes with its own benefits and disadvantages.

This study indicates a need to keep our eye on the prize: higher academic achievement for all of our students. It reminds us that board members must become as knowledgeable as possible on understanding relevant data, as well as best practices and current education trends.

In most cases, board members do not join boards as experts in education and, as the study shows, those who do, do not necessarily focus on student achievement. But, the board members who are determined to learn more and, I would add, get involved in regional and statewide opportunities for learning, provide their districts with the value that will make their boards and their students even more successful than they are now.

And in this competitive world, every little bit helps.

Staff|April 29th, 2014|Categories: Board governance, Key Work of School Boards, Leadership, State School Boards Associations, Student Achievement|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: Board governance, Crisis Management, Governance, Leadership Conference 2013, State School Boards Associations|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: Council of School Attorneys, Crisis Management, Leadership Conference 2013, School Law, School Security, State School Boards Associations|Tags: , , , , , , , |

State school boards associations offer support and resources after Newtown school shootings

When word arrived that a number of students and adults had been gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the staff at the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) recognized the need to offer immediate support to that town’s school board.

So, by the next morning, a crisis communications expert on contract with CABE was in Newtown to help school leaders with the media frenzy that descended on the school system—and to help provide whatever comfort and reassurances the district could provide to a shocked and distraught community.

“She was with the superintendent through most of Saturday [the day after the shooting],” says CABE Executive Director Robert J. Rader. “We also reached out to the school district that was going to take in some of those kids from Sandy Hook,” which was closed immediately after the shootings.

Meeting the needs of school boards was clearly on the minds of state school boards associations across the nation in the aftermath of the Dec. 14 shootings, the deadliest mass killing at a K-12 public school since a 1927 bombing in Bath, Mich. At Sandy Hook, 20 children—ages 6 and 7—and six adults died at the hands of a 20-year-old armed with an assault rifle and two handguns.

None was as proactive in the hours after the tragic shootings, however, than CABE, whose headquarters is only 50 miles from Sandy Hook.

In addition to offering its services to the Newtown school board, CABE rushed to post a “Dealing with Tragedy” webpage that listed resources for school boards seeking guidance on how to talk to students and parents about the shootings, as well as tips for dealing with the media and reviewing school safety measures. The new webpage was posted by Sunday evening, about 48 hours after association officials first learned of the shootings.

“We wanted people to have this information before school started on Monday,” Rader says.

In days following the shootings, many state associations found the most immediate need of local school leaders was to reassure the public that their community schools were safe—and that sound security practices were in place in each school.

Mirroring the quick response of CABE, the Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA) quickly posted a new webpage with a list of more than 50 online resources that school boards could access to help them with school safety issues and to respond to student, staff, and parent concerns about the shootings.

“We sent [a notice of the list] to every superintendent, every school board member, every school communications person that we had emails for in the state,” says Brad Hughes, director of member support services director for KSBA.

KSBA also provided regular reports on its online news service about media coverage of the shootings and how Kentucky school boards were responding to the incident. The goal, Hughes said, was to allow school officials to learn more about how their peers statewide were handling media attention and public concerns.

In Colorado, where school safety has been on the minds of school officials since the tragic 1999 shootings at Columbine High School, school boards are well versed in school safety issues and haven’t expressed much concern about reviewing their school safety plans, says Kristine Woolley, director of communications for the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB).

The most immediate concern among school leaders was to reassure the public about the safety of their schools, she says. Much of the communications among local school districts has taken place on a private list serve of school public relations directors.

“They are the ones who are information-sharing,” she says. “It’s a pretty active group. They’ve been talking: ‘I’ve got this issue in my district,’ and everybody jumps on board with ‘This is what we did in the past’ and ‘Here’s as sample of what we did’ or ‘Here’s how we responded.’”

The Missouri School Boards Association (MSBA) and the Missouri Department of Public Safety established the Missouri Center for Education Safety a few years ago. This partnership provides school safety expertise and resources to Missouri school districts. It is headed up by Paul Fennewald, the former director of the Missouri Office of Homeland Security. Brent Ghan, chief communications officer for MSBA interviewed Fennewald this week. The interview is posted on the MSBA website and on YouTube.

The Massachusetts Association of School Committees also has made available information about school safety issues, says Michael Gilbert, a MASC field director who consults with school boards. He says much of the conversation he’s heard among school leaders has centered on what steps schools already have taken to improve school safety—and the need to communicate that to the public.

One reason the state’s school officials are more confident in speaking to the public was that a new state mandate required an update of school security measures to include a first-response plan involving police, fire, and medical agencies, he says.

“Following Columbine, I watched the overreaction of many of our school boards to the immediacy of some of the information that came from that tragedy,” he says. For example, after some media accounts reported the shooters had worn trench coats, some school boards started banning these coats from schools.

“I’m not seeing that type of overreaction today,” Gilbert says. “I think our members are being much more thoughtful.”

In Pennsylvania, most school boards appear to have matters well in hand, says Steve Robinson, director of public relations for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA). “Many school districts have been proactive in contacting parents in some way, whether through automated calling systems or postings on their websites—just to remind parents of what procedures exist, to alleviate the fears that parents have, to remind them that their schools are safe.”

The similar experience is reported by the New York State School Boards Association, where Deputy Director of Communications Barbara Bradley says there hasn’t been an “uptick in calls” since the shootings.

“We saw that school districts were being proactive in getting messages out to their communities—that they were reviewing their security measures and making sure everything was in place,” she says. “And they’re reassuring parents in the community that the schools were safe.”

One of the more positive responses to the Sandy Hook tragedy came a few days after the shootings when OSBA was invited by state Attorney General Mike DeWine to participate in a new state initiative to review school safety.

“It’s encouraging that the Ohio Attorney General’s Office reached out to us and wants to include us in the conversation,” says OSBA Executive Director Richard Lewis.

As it happens, OSBA has developed a new school safety consulting program, led by the former head of the National Association of School Resource Officers. It’s a program that Lewis says was garnering interest from school boards even before the Sandy Hook tragedy.

“I suspect this is going to create so many conversations,” he says. “So many people are going to be looking for answers and solutions.”

One issue that OSBA hopes will be part of the conversation is the need to expand mental health services—for both students and community members, Lewis says. “We think that a key to school safety isn’t so much about coming up with more plans for school lockdowns and evacuations … but rather to spend some time on prevention.”

That thinking already is a part of the conversation in Connecticut, Rader says. CABE has met with a number of education associations and business community representatives to talk about their position on issues that might arise in the next state legislative session. One of those issues is likely to be the access and funding available for mental health services.

“We have a list serve of our school board chairs, and they’ve been discussing these issues and what they want to do in their own districts.”

State association officials say the repercussions of Sandy Hook will not be fully clear for some time. But many report a gratifying sense of camaraderie and mutual support among school boards across the nation. OSBA, for example, shared a message with CABE and the Newtown school board that an Ohio school board member—whose district also had endured a school shooting—was passing along her email and telephone number if she could help.

“It speaks volumes about the compassion that school board members have for one another,” Lewis says.

Del Stover|December 20th, 2012|Categories: American School Board Journal, Crisis Management, School Security, State School Boards Associations|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |
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