The School Board this week unveiled the results of a self-evaluation, and an accompanying community survey of how well it does its work.
While there were many areas in which the board members agreed on certain strengths of their leadership, communication, long-range planning and keeping up with current events were seen by themselves as relative weaknesses. And among community members surveyed, including teachers, parents, staff members and those from the community at large, a general ignorance of board activity was the highlight.
The board will discuss its findings in detail at a workshop later, but certain trends were evident.
All six members agreed, three strongly, with the statement, "I have been to board meetings where it seemed that the subtleties of the issues we dealt with escaped the awareness of a number of members."
On the issue of long-term planning, only one person agreed with this statement: "The board sets clear organizational priorities for the year ahead."
Similarly, just one agreed that "this board periodically sets aside time to learn more about the important issues facing school districts like the one we govern."
And not one member agreed that "the board has adopted some explicit goals for itself, distinct from goals it has for the total school district."
Some board decision-making processes also were seen as deficient. Just one member agreed that, "when faced with an important issue, the board often 'brainstorms' and tries to generate a whole list of creative approaches or solutions to the problem."
Only two members agreed that "the board often requests that a decision be postponed until further information can be obtained," and only half agreed with this: "The board periodically obtains information on the perspectives of staff and community."
Only one agreed that "the board discusses events and trends in the larger environment that may present specific opportunities for this school district."
Among the 73 questions, many if not most of the responses were split — three agreeing and three not; two against four; or one against five. In some cases, a regular board attendee could take a pretty good guess as to who voted alone, or which two opposed the others.
For good or ill, no one agreed with this: "At our board meetings, there is at least as much dialogue among members as there is between members and administrators." There are almost always more board members than administrators at board meetings, so the responses to this question may not be startling.
The outsiders' perspective
The community responses came from 264 people, more than half of whom said they had never attended a board meeting, and more than 60 percent of whom said they hadn't watched a board meeting on cable TV or online. Maybe, then, it should not be a surprise that the most common answer among five categories — "strongly agree," "disagree," "not observed," "agree," "strongly agree" — was the middle one: "not observed."
To some questions, the community response mirrored the board's own response. For example, only about 23 percent of respondents agreed that "the board has adopted some goals for itself, distinct from goals it has for the total school district." The response was about the same to the question "before reaching a decision on an important issue, the board usually requests input from persons likely to be affected by the decision."
The board scored higher on some questions. "The board works hard to reach consensus on important questions" got 41 percent agreement or strong agreement. And 44 percent agreed or strongly agreed that "the board is always involved in decisions that are important to the future of education in our district."
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