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Tag Archive: School Board Governance

  1. 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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  2. 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.


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  3. March 2014 Board Watch Report Card

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    Volunteers give first grade to new Board Members

    Highlights

    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.

    Board Watch March 2014 Report Card

     

    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
    • 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.[1]  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

    *Supported teachers

     

    [1] 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.


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