June 9 School Board meeting – 5:30 PM
The Agenda for this month’s meeting contained 96 items. It’s not as bad as it sounds, though, because 78 items comprised the Consent Agenda, i.e. items presented for Board approval without discussion unless a Board member requests it.
None of the consent items was pulled for discussion, not even Item 9, approval of a new kindergarten through 8th grade charter school. See the 643-page application here and related Naples Daily News article here. Florida law gives local school districts little power to reject charter applications as long as specified requirements are met, hence (presumably) the lack of Board discussion.
Next came a proposed change to the Agenda by Board member Erika Donalds (defeated on a 3–2 vote) and comments from about 30 public speakers. I encourage you to experience some of them yourself through the Video-on-Demand recording on the District website, beginning about 30 minutes in.
At around 8:15 PM, the Board meeting “really” began
First, two items of unfinished business (adoption of School Board Bylaw 0100 – Definitions and Policy 1010 – Board-Superintendent Relationship) were approved unanimously on their Second Reading, having been discussed at great length at previous meetings.
Policy 1010 reflects a significant change in how suggestions for new policies or revisions to existing policies can be made. The matter arose when Donalds and Lichter wanted several matters considered in the past, and felt they were being unfairly prevented from doing so. As revised:
“Such suggestions will be placed on the next agenda and addressed at a public meeting. Because such suggestions are linked to potential future District policy development and/or revision, the public will be given the opportunity to speak on whether any such suggestion merits further study. If the Board believes, as a matter of consensus, any such suggestion merits further study, the Superintendent shall have staff research the matter. The Superintendent will report staff’s findings to the Board and recommend to the Board whether a new or amended policy should be developed and brought forward as a first reading at the next biannual policy review work session.”
There were then two information-only presentations. First, the District’s legislative lobbyist gave a Preliminary 2015 Legislative Review and Status, “preliminary” because final school funding and other outcomes would not be known until the state’s special Legislative Session ends toward the end of the month.
Then, a First Reading of the 2015–16 Student Progression Plan was presented, along with a document showing changes from the prior year. The Plan sets forth the rules, administrative procedures and promotion criteria by which students advance from grade to grade. It specifically addresses how parents are to be kept informed about their child’s progress. Parents, students, other interested citizens and school personnel are the intended readers of this document. There was no Board discussion; presumably the Plan will have a Second Reading at the next Board meeting.
The Board’s self-evaluation
Next, the Board’s self-evaluation was presented. As I wrote last week, I’m not surprised that it took a terrible turn this year. Everyone agrees that the message sent is concerning.
What to do about it is another story. In “School Board, a negative direction” (behind paywall), the Naples Daily News Editorial Board recommends reinstating appointed citizen advisory boards on curriculum and financial matters to address the lack of trust evidenced by the Board’s self-evaluation. Several community members I’ve spoken with agree.
But I am skeptical that individuals appointed by our polarized Board members would be any more willing to compromise than the Board members themselves. And I have no doubt that meeting the requests of the newly-empowered committee members would only add to the already significant time District staff currently spends meeting Board and community member requests. We don’t need more bureaucracy.
Instead, I urge the Board to do what they are supposed to do: work professionally and with positive intent, compromise, and get things done in the best interests of the children. I support Board member Julie Sprague’s request for another professionally-facilitated session focused on the Board’s Governance Model and another Board self-evaluation in November, when this group will have served together a full year. Watch a clip of her comments here.
The Superintendent’s 2014–15 evaluation and 2015–16 goals
To me, the most substantive Board discussion at Tuesday’s meeting concerned the Superintendent’s 2014–15 evaluation and proposed 2015–16 goals. You can watch it here, starting about five minutes into the video.
As I explained last week, the evaluation consists of two equally-weighted parts:
- 38 performance objectives tied to the District’s three-year Strategic Plan, and
- 20 professional standards aligned to the 2009 Connect Now Community Statement of common aspirations for students and the community.
Donalds objected to the form of the evaluation, which had been approved by the predecessor Board a year ago.
First, she was troubled by what she called a “disconnect” between the Strategic Plan’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and the performance objectives being evaluated. In a memo she sent fellow Board members the day before the Board meeting, she wrote:
… Our evaluation must be based on how effective the actions of our Chief Executive were in achieving our shared goals, not merely whether she has taken actions or implemented strategies without ties to defined, measureable outcomes. ….
This is difficult to understand without comparing the Strategic Plan and Evaluation documents. Here’s an example using the first of the Strategic Plan’s six goals: “Expand Early Childhood Education to Enhance School Readiness and Early Learning.” That goal has three KPIs:
- Increase by four percent the number of CCPS VPK students who meet the criteria for Kindergarten Readiness as defined by the Florida Office of Early Learning.
- Strengthen and monitor Family Literacy programs at one hundred percent of elementary schools and develop and implement three Parent Academies one of which will focus on early childhood education.
- Provide professional learning opportunities by offering six sessions, two sessions annually, for community Pre-K providers.
The Plan lists a number of Strategies for each KPI for fiscal year 2015. As an example, the Strategies for the “increase by four percent” KPI are:
- Conduct a minimum of two annual meetings with site Pre-K principals to review assessment data and to implement improvement strategies ….
- Analyze the impact of professional learning efforts from previous year by ….
- Promote communication by planning and delivering quarterly early childhood updates ….
By comparison and to Donalds’ point, the two performance objectives for this goal in the Superintendent’s evaluation instrument are:
- Expand professional learning opportunities for community based agencies, based on identified needs.
- Share best practices gathered from elementary reading coaches/principals to create a Family Literacy Collaboration website.
Board Chair Curatolo strongly disagreed with Donalds that the Strategic Plan’s KPIs should be the metrics evaluated. In her view, “No one goal can determine if student learning measures have been met. It’s collective.” There was a lengthy debate, well-argued by both sides.
Curatolo and Donalds have very different educational backgrounds, professional training, and career experiences. Curatolo is in her third four-year term as school board member, has a Certification in School District Administration, and has received Master Board Certification through the Florida School Board Association. Donalds’ education and professional experience is in accountancy and global management accounting, and this is the first year of her first term as a board member.
My own education and career are similar to Donalds’. I understand her point of view, although I don’t necessarily agree that a school district superintendent’s evaluation should be modeled on that of a corporate CEO. I am less familiar with the model Curatolo was supporting, and her experience and training in school board administration add value to the discussion. Hearing during the meeting how much more structured and demanding the Collier Superintendent’s evaluation is compared to other Districts in Florida was also interesting and relevant.
Regarding the second part of the evaluation, professional standards, Donalds objected to the subjectivity involved in evaluating them, and to the equal weight given to the quantitative (performance) and qualitative (professional standards) parts of the evaluation.
Curatolo agreed with Donalds that the overall assessment should more heavily weight the objective performance metrics than the subjective professional standards. Sprague disagreed. Pointing out that the professional standards came directly from the Connect Now Community Statement, she said she would not support lowering the weight of that section.
The discussion continued until ultimately Chair Curatolo called for a motion to approve the 2014–15 Evaluation and 2015–16 goals, which passed 3–2. While board members agreed on the evaluation, Donalds and Lichter voted no because they were unable to make changes to the goals.
In my view, one of the Board’s most important responsibilities is setting the Superintendent’s goals and evaluating her performance. To that end, having an effective evaluation tool is critical. I hope there will be more discussion and ultimately consensus reached on a revised set of evaluation metrics for the 2016–17 year.
My mission – what drives me to write this blog – is to encourage and facilitate community involvement in civic affairs and, ultimately, informed, fact-based voting. I hope this post did that, even if I didn’t tell you who said what during the 2–1/2 hours of public comments. That will be the subject of my next post, where I will also give my thoughts about how I might cover that part of Board meetings going forward.
Please share this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com, “like” me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.