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  1. April 2016 Board Watch Report Card

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    Below is the twenty-sixth Board Watch report card based on volunteer assessments.  The current report card reflects assessments from December through March of 2016. Overall, the School Board received a B average.

    Volunteer for Board Watch.

     

    Board Watch March 2016

     

     

    • Overall: The overall grade is a 3.73 (B), which increased from a B- on the previous Report Card. The grades were calculated from 19 surveys from 10 different volunteers.
    Minimum Score     Grade
      5.00  A+
      4.67  A
      4.33  A-
      4.00  B+
      3.67  B
      3.33  B-
      3.00  C+
      2.67  C
      2.33  C-
      2.00  D+
      1.67  D
      1.33  D-
      1.00  F
    • Focus and Mission: The score is a 3.70 (B), which increased from a C+ on the previous Report Card. On average, volunteers reported that the Board spent just more than 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 4.16 (B+), the same grade as on the previous Report Card. 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 4.63 (A-), the same grade as on the previous Report Card. This means that on average, volunteers reported that very few Board members used sarcastic or disrespectful verbal or nonverbal communication. They reported that nearly all of the Board handled differences of opinion respectfully.
    • Role Clarity: The score is a 2.57 (C-), the same grade as on the previous Report. This score reflects that on average, volunteers reported that the Board spent a little 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 a little 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 3.56 (B-), the same as on the previous Report Card. On average, volunteers reported that more than half of Board members were prepared for meetings and appeared to use research, district data, existing policies, and other facts to inform their opinions.

    A Deeper Look at the Scores 

    Compared with the previous Report Card, the School Board received slightly higher grades in two indicators: Focus and Mission and Competency, which served to boost its overall grade from a B- to a B. Although the grade in Role Clarity remained the same, volunteers’ observations indicated a smaller percentage of comments related to existing policy or seeking solutions compared with the previous reporting period. The Board received its highest grade in Conduct; however, volunteers described various verbal and non-verbal communications toward fellow Board Members and/or district staff ranging from effective to sarcastic and disrespectful. We encourage the Board endeavor to treat colleagues on and off the Board with respect and professionalism.

     


    Recommendation – Focus on Goals and Provide Policy Leadership

    We appreciate efforts by Board Members that resulted in this reporting period’s increased grades in Focus and Mission and Competency. However, based on volunteer feedback, we strongly encourage the School Board to focus more intently on ways to achieve its goals of maximizing student academic achievement and of addressing the needs of all students through equitable resource distribution. We also encourage School Board members to come to meetings prepared by spending more time getting clarification questions answered in advance of meetings and by using research and existing data to inform their opinions.

    The School Board continues to receive its lowest grade in Role Clarity. We encourage the School Board to ensure that its dollars are distributed in ways that translate into maximum achievement and opportunities for every student in the Pittsburgh Public Schools by doing the following:

    1. Monitor progress on key academic goals – again, we encourage the Board to work with District administration to set specific achievement targets and benchmarks toward goals in the “Whole Child, Whole Community” plan adopted by the Board in 2014. These goals are related to kindergarten readiness, elementary literacy, algebra readiness, Pittsburgh Promise, college and career readiness, and developmental skills and habits. We encourage the Board to monitor these targets on a regular basis in a way that is transparent to the public.

    2. Improve impact and transparency of district budgeting – the district’s current budgeting system is neither transparent nor flexible with more than half of expenditures not tracked directly to schools or on a per pupil basis. Without understanding how many dollars are spent at each school, the School Board cannot determine whether resources are distributed equitably to address the needs of all students. We urge the Board to seek to understand how dollars are spent at each school and to increase principals’ ability to budget resources to meet the needs of the students at their schools. The School Board can do this by moving to a student based budgeting system that will be transparent, predictable, and weighted for student needs much like the funding formula being advocated for at the State.

    3. Increase transparency in decision making – again, we urge the new Board to demonstrate accountability to voters and taxpayers by making its decision processes explicit and transparent. We ask that publicly funded cell phone numbers be made publicly available so voters can directly contact Board Members with questions and concerns. Currently constituents do not have direct access to district issued mobile phones for Board Members, which reduces trust and confidence in the Board’s ability to be responsive to public concerns. Only direct access to democratically elected School Board members can improve trust and communication in our community.


    Links to Videos of Board Meetings Covered by this Report Card

    Watch the Board meetings that our Board Watch volunteers attend to better understand the grade the Board received.

    Archives of December-March Agenda Review and Legislative Meetings can be found here.

     


    Since the launch of Board Watch in January 2009, A+ Schools has issued 26 report cards on Pittsburgh School Board governance practices based on observations of meetings by trained volunteers.

    The March 2015 report card is the nineteenth 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.


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  2. September 2015 Board Watch Report Card

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    Below is the twenty-fourth Board Watch report card based on volunteer assessments.  The current report card reflects assessments from June through August of 2015. Overall, the School Board received a C+ average.

    Volunteer for Board Watch.

    Board Watch Report Card September 2015

     

     

     

    • Overall: The overall grade is a 3.25 (C+), which was the same grade as the previous Report Card. The grades were calculated from 23 surveys from 13 different volunteers.
    Minimum Score     Grade
      5.00  A+
      4.67  A
      4.33  A-
      4.00  B+
      3.67  B
      3.33  B-
      3.00  C+
      2.67  C
      2.33  C-
      2.00  D+
      1.67  D
      1.33  D-
      1.00  F
    • Focus and Mission: The score is a 2.86 (C), which decreased from a C+ on 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 3.83 (B), the same grade as on the previous Report Card.  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 4.24 (B+), the same grade as 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 2.13 (D+), the same as on the previous Report.  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 3.22 (C+), the same grade as on the previous Report Card.  On average, volunteers reported that only about half of Board members were prepared for meetings and appeared to use research, district data, existing policies, and other facts to inform their opinions.

    A Deeper Look at the Scores 

    Compared with the previous Report Card, volunteers observed a slight increase in comments referencing existing policies and seeking solutions/measuring progress.  Volunteers also observed an increase in Board Member comments communicating a lack of respect for fellow Board Members and/or district staff.  Specifically, volunteers suggested that when Board Members disagree with others, they should do so in a respectful way.

     


    Recommendation – Focus on Policy Making; Time Management

    The Board received its lowest grade in Role Clarity.  This grade reflects volunteer observations that the Board spends relatively little time focused on (1) how the district is making progress toward achieving its goals and (2) using policy to create solutions to Board Member concerns.  Although volunteers did observe the Board making comments about the needs of specific groups of students, they did not observe the Board addressing equity in a manner reflecting their role as policy makers.  We encourage the Board to use its time together to discuss progress toward goals and policy solutions that will result in more equitable access to opportunities for all students in the district.

    During this reporting period, volunteers also observed a lack of good time management during the meetings: starting late, returning to items previously discussed, and asking questions that could not be answered at the time.  Additionally, volunteers commented that in some instances, they believed meeting protocols and regular rules of order were not being followed.  These issues may be preventing the Board from focusing on its overall equity goals of maximum achievement for all students and equitable distribution of resources to address the needs of all students.

     


    Links to Videos of Board Meetings Covered by this Report Card

    Watch the Board meetings that our Board Watch volunteers attend to better understand the grade the Board received.

    Agenda Review Meetings.

    Legislative Meetings.


    Since the launch of Board Watch in January 2009, A+ Schools has issued 24 report cards on Pittsburgh School Board governance practices based on observations of meetings by trained volunteers.

    The Sepetember 2015 report card is the seventeenth 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.


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  3. June 2015 Board Watch Report Card

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    Below is the twenty-third Board Watch report card based on volunteer assessments.  The current report card reflects assessments from March through May of 2015. Overall, the School Board received a C+ average.

    June 2015 Board Watch Report Card

     

    • Overall: The overall grade is a 3.26 (C+), which decreased from a B- in the previous Report Card. The grades were calculated from 21 surveys from 11 different volunteers.
    Minimum Score     Grade
      5.00  A+
      4.67  A
      4.33  A-
      4.00  B+
      3.67  B
      3.33  B-
      3.00  C+
      2.67  C
      2.33  C-
      2.00  D+
      1.67  D
      1.33  D-
      1.00  F
    • Focus and Mission: The score is a 3.23 (C+), which is the same grade as in 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 3.81 (B), decreasing from a B+ on the previous Report Card. 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 4.06 (B+), the same grade as 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 2.06 (D+), decreasing from a C and continuing to be the lowest grade (in fact the lowest grade ever earned by Board Watch). 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 3.13 (C+), decreasing from a B- on the previous Report Card. On average, volunteers reported that only about half of Board members were prepared for the meeting and appeared to use research, district data, existing policies, and other facts to inform their opinions.

    A Deeper Look at the Scores 

    Compared with the previous two Report Cards, volunteers observed a decrease in comments related to solution seeking or measuring progress and a substantial increase in comments reacting to individual agenda items (see figure below). This trend in part explains the decrease in the Board’s score on Role Clarity.  Volunteers observed Board members spending a substantial amount of time giving accolades, time that could have been spent more effectively by discussing whether programs had positive effects on student outcomes.  Volunteers also felt that Board members could have demanded more specificity in the responses to some of their questions.

    Conduct remained the highest grade this reporting period, and it’s encouraging that volunteers observed fewer comments being made that communicate a lack of respect for fellow Board members or district staff (from 14% to 4% since the last reporting period).  We continue to encourage Board members to treat differences of opinion respectfully in order to serve as positive role models for their colleagues, the public, and Pittsburgh’s students.

    Board Watch June 2015 Chart

     


    Recommendation – Focus on Progress; Continue Becoming Informed on Issues Critical to Student Success

    In the previous Report Card, we commended the Board for its proactive and long range approach to incorporating innovative program costs into the general fund budget. In May the Board approved a number of these measures to continue supporting programs critical to student success, such as Summer Dreamers Academy, We Promise, and teaching effectiveness. We’re encouraged by these decisions and urge the Board to continue taking the time to become informed on topics about which they will make decisions. On the issue of role clarity, we continue to recommend that the focus of your time and energy as board members is on setting direction and monitoring district progress rather than managing details of transactions and programs. We believe doing so will increase Board effectiveness in creating policy solutions that will result in more equitable access to resources and higher achievement for all students.


    Since the launch of Board Watch in January 2009, A+ Schools has issued 23 report cards on Pittsburgh School Board governance practices based on observations of meetings by trained volunteers.

    The June 2015 report card is the sixteenth 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.


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  4. March 2015 Board Watch Report Card

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    Below is the twenty-second Board Watch report card based on volunteer assessments.  The current report card reflects assessments from December through March of 2015. Stay tuned for June’s report card in the next couple of weeks. Overall, the School Board maintained a B– average.

    March 2015 Board Watch Report Card

     

    • Overall: The overall grade is a 3.54 (B-), the same letter grade as in the previous Report Card.  The grades were calculated from 15 surveys from 16 different volunteers.
    Minimum Score     Grade
      5.00  A+
      4.67  A
      4.33  A-
      4.00  B+
      3.67  B
      3.33  B-
      3.00  C+
      2.67  C
      2.33  C-
      2.00  D+
      1.67  D
      1.33  D-
      1.00  F
    • Focus and Mission: The score is a 3.29 (C+), which is the same grade as in 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 4.16 (B+), increasing from a B on the previous Report Card. 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 4.19 (B+), decreasing from an A- 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 2.76 (C), increasing from a C- and continuing to be the lowest grade. This score reflects that on average, volunteers reported that the Board spent about 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 about 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 3.32 (B-), increasing from a C+ on the previous Report Card. On average, volunteers reported that only more than half of Board members were prepared for the meeting and appeared to use research, district data, existing policies, and other facts to inform their opinions.

    A Deeper Look at the Scores 

    In the previous Report Card (covering meetings between Sept-Nov of 2014), we reported volunteer observations of Board member comments and questions during Agenda Review and Legislative Sessions. For that reporting period, volunteers had observed a substantial increase from the previous period in comments related to solution seeking or measuring progress (from 11% to 21%) and for comments referencing existing policy (from 12% to 20%). It is encouraging that for the current reporting period (December 2014 – March 2015), there was yet another increase in comments related to solution seeking or measuring progress (from 21% to 26%). We applaud Board members’ continued efforts to increase discussions grounded in progress toward goals and seeking solutions.

    One point of concern is the increase in comments that communicate a lack of respect for fellow Board members or district staff (from 6% to 14%). We encourage Board members to treat differences of opinion respectfully. Contemptuous and disdainful commentary is not only unproductive, it sets a poor model for our students.

    Chart for March 2015 Board Watch Report Card

     


    Recommendation – Continue to Gather More Information; Manage Time Well

    In the past two Report Cards, we have asked School Board members to take the time to become informed on topics about which they will make decisions. We commend the Board for requesting information to be shared with them with more advance notice to allow more time for them to fully understand it prior to a vote. We believe taking more time to understand these topics will increase Board effectiveness in creating policy solutions and decrease excessive time spent on understanding information in the meetings. We are encouraged, for example, by the financial sustainability work which was introduced formally in April and comes before the Board later this month. The Board is to be commended for its proactive and long range approach to incorporating innovative program costs into the general fund budget.

    One concern raised by volunteers was the lack of effective time management during some meetings, particularly regarding individual agenda items taking up large amounts of time. Volunteers continued to give feedback that Board members should reference specific data or outcomes—or ask for the data—rather than sharing general thoughts or opinions on programs without data to back up their opinions. We agree that the Board should manage time effectively during meetings, focusing on fewer, more strategic agenda items and giving them the attention required.


    Since the launch of Board Watch in January 2009, A+ Schools has issued 22 report cards on Pittsburgh School Board governance practices based on observations of meetings by trained volunteers.

    The January 2015 report card is the fourteenth 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.


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  5. December 2014 Board Watch Report Card

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    Below is the twenty-first Board Watch report card based on volunteer assessments.  The current report card reflects assessments from June through November.  Overall, the School Board maintained a B– average.

    Board Watch Report Card January 2015

    • Overall: The overall grade is a 3.41 (B-), the same letter grade as in the previous Report Card.  The grades were calculated from 47 surveys from 23 different volunteers.
    Minimum Score     Grade
      5.00  A+
      4.67  A
      4.33  A-
      4.00  B+
      3.67  B
      3.33  B-
      3.00  C+
      2.67  C
      2.33  C-
      2.00  D+
      1.67  D
      1.33  D-
      1.00  F
    • Focus and Mission: The score is a 3.04 (C+), which is the same grade as in 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 3.86 (B), increasing from a B- on the previous Report Card.  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 4.48 (A-), increasing from a B+ on the previous Report Card.  This means that on average, volunteers reported that ­very few Board members used sarcastic or disrespectful verbal or nonverbal communication.  They reported that almost all of the Board handled differences of opinion respectfully.
    • Role Clarity: The score is a 2.43 (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 3.27 (C+), which is the same grade as in the previous Report Card.  On average, volunteers reported that only about half of Board members were prepared for the meeting and appeared to use research, district data, existing policies and other facts to inform their opinions.

    A Deeper Look at the Scores 

    The Board received its highest per-meeting scores in Conduct, earning an A- or above for ten of the twelve meetings between June and November.  It is encouraging that volunteers observed most School Board members continuing to act respectfully toward one another during meetings.

    In the previous Report Card covering meetings between March–May, we reported volunteer observations of Board member comments and questions during Agenda Review and Legislative Sessions.  For that reporting period, volunteers observed that 73% of comments were reacting to individual agenda items, and only 11% of comments were identified as solution seeking or related to measuring progress.  It is encouraging that for the meetings included in this Report Card (September–November), volunteers observed a substantial increase from 11% to 21% for comments related to solution seeking or measuring progress and from 12% to 20% for comments referencing existing policy.  We applaud Board members’ efforts to increase discussions grounded in progress toward goals and seeking solutions.

    Graph from Board Watch Report Card January 2015


    Recommendation – Gather More Information

    As we recommended in the previous Report Card, we ask School Board members to take the time to become informed on topics about which they will make decisions.  Doing so will increase Board effectiveness in creating policy solutions and decrease excessive time spent on understanding information in the meetings.  The majority of volunteer comments for this reporting period—as well as for the previous Report Card—centered around Board members taking initiative to become more informed on the content of agenda items, including information related to state policies relevant to public education.


    Since the launch of Board Watch in January 2009, A+ Schools has issued 21 report cards on Pittsburgh School Board governance practices based on observations of meetings by trained volunteers.

    The January 2015 report card is the fourteenth 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

    More Information