March 2014 Board Watch Report CardLeave a Comment
Volunteers give first grade to new Board Members
On its nineteenth Board Watch report card based on volunteer assessment, the School Board of Pittsburgh Public Schools scored an overall B- for the period from December – March 2014.
- Overall: The overall grade is a 3.46 (B-), the same letter grade as in the previous Report Card. The grades were calculated from 27 surveys from 21 different volunteers.
- Focus and Mission: The score is a 3.24 (C+), remaining at a C+ from the previous Report Card. On average, volunteers reported that the Board only spent about half of its meeting time managing time effectively, focusing on ways to achieve the district’s goals, and prioritizing student outcomes.
- Transparency: The score is a 3.76 (B), remaining at a B, which means that on average, volunteers agreed that they felt welcome at the meeting and understood the information presented and the rationale behind the Board’s actions.
- Conduct: The score is a 4.39 (A-), increasing from a B on the previous Report Card. This means that on average, volunteers reported that few Board members used sarcastic or disrespectful verbal or nonverbal communication. They reported that most of the Board handled differences of opinion respectfully.
- Role Clarity: The score is a 2.46 (C-), remaining a C-and continuing to be the lowest grade. This score reflects that on average, volunteers reported that the Board spent less than half of its meeting time focused on how the district is making progress toward achieving its goals and using policy to create solutions to Board member concerns. Volunteers said the Board spent more than half of its meeting time focused on the details of agenda items (i.e., when items occur, who participates, etc.).
- Competency: The score is a 3.44 (B-), increasing from a C+ from the previous Report Card, which means that on average, volunteers reported that just over half of the Board members were prepared for the meeting and appeared to use research, district data, existing policies and other facts to inform their opinions.
Praise for Good Conduct
In the December report card, we asked School Board members to work through difficult decisions with dignity and respect for each other, for district administration, and for our students, whose needs should be put first. On this report card—which covers the December-February meetings—the School Board received an A- in Conduct. This is a higher grade than the School Board received for all of the report cards in 2013, where the grades for Conduct were either a B or B+. We thank the Board for communicating with each other respectfully—including during times when members have differences of opinion—and we encourage the Board to continue striving to maintain respectful interactions with one another.
Recommendations – Revisit Goals
The School Board approved of its current set of Core Beliefs and Shared Goals and Commitments six years ago. Since that time, Pittsburgh has elected new board members who now face new challenges regarding the financial sustainability of the district. Given the enormous responsibility of the current School Board to make decisions that will result in better preparing our students for successful lives beyond high school, we believe the School Board must clearly articulate its priorities for the district so it can remain focused on them.
Feedback from volunteers who observe School Board meetings suggests that the School Board is not as focused on its goals at it could be during meetings, with this report card’s grade being a C+ for Focus on Mission. We ask the School Board to revisit its goals and share its priorities with the public, whether they remain the same or change.
A recent study published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute looked at responses from a 2009 national survey of 900 school board members in 417 unique school districts. The findings suggest that in districts whose students perform better than expected academically given their demographic and financial characteristics, their school boards have higher proportions of members who prioritize improving student learning. Currently, the School Board’s first goal is maximum achievement for all students – we hope this still a top priority for the School Board and that it will demonstrate the Board’s commitment in its deliberations and actions.
Finally, we want to remind each School Board member of the commitment s/he made in 2013 when each signed onto the Community Pledge for Educational Equity and Excellence:
*Great teaching for all children
*Equitable resource distribution
*Differentiated supports and services
 Shober, A.F. & Northern A.M. (2014). Does School Board Leadership Matter? Thomas Fordham Institute. Retrieved from http://www.edexcellence.net/publications/does-school-board-leadership-matter.
Since the launch of Board Watch in January 2009, A+ Schools has issued 19 report cards on Pittsburgh School Board governance practices based on observations of meetings by trained volunteers.
The March 2013 report card is the eleventh report card to be issued using the new reporting form (Version 2.0) introduced by A+ Schools in 2011. Version 2.0 reflects higher expectations for the School Board’s governance and allows for more specific feedback and recommendations from Board Watch volunteers.
What You Can Do
- Volunteer for Board Watch
- Contact your School Board Member
- Testify at a Public Hearing
- Attend or Watch a School Board Meeting