This Opinion was first published in the Eastern Shore Post in February. After receiving another letter regarding Superintendent Lawrence and the School Board, the Mirror reached out to Nancy Proto about publishing her article here.
If I were to describe my time on the Northampton County School Board in one word, that word would be: enlightening. Since moving to the Shore in 2011 one consistent concern heard over and over by the residents has been the public school system. “Improve the school system.“ If the schools are not where we want them to be, what should be done? How do school boards improve a school system?
I had no idea, but with 25 years of experience in public education combined with my increasing knowledge of Northampton County, I thought I could help. I was elected to the school board in November 2015.
Early on, I attended a Virginia School Board Association (VSBA)
workshop on Superintendent Evaluation. It was enlightening.
Superintendent Evaluation is a major responsibility of the SB. I discovered we
were not following the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) guidelines and
reported this to the SB. Not until over a full year later was a
Superintendent Evaluation Committee formed so we could get “on track.” At that time the board approved the VDOE process
for evaluating the superintendent that includes identifying goals and plans to
achieve those goals. To date, this process has not been followed.
In 2017 I attended another VSBA training, “How School Boards Make a Difference.” Dr. Phil Gore, Director of Board Development Services in Texas, presented. It was enlightening. I reported to the SB details including the Six Statistically Significant Actions that High Performing SBs Do That are Related to Student Improvement That Low Performing SB Do Not Do. There was no interest.
In 2018 because of the positive feedback from the school boards across the state, VSBA offered two webinars with Dr. Gore on the same subject. My motion for the SB to attend these webinars was approved. Most did not attend. That July, goals were developed consistent with what those who attended had learned. It was a very good start, but they were not presented to the superintendent until January. The superintendent, subsequently, stated they were not appropriate for a superintendent. The school board accepted this.
In August 2019, I reminded the board that we had still not approved goals for the 2018-19 school year, which at that point had already ended, and that the superintendent per his contract was supposed to have provided goals to the SB by September 1st of 2018.
As school board members we each pledge to “discharge all duties …to the best of my abilities.” The board as a whole, in my opinion, has not done this. Specifically, to date the Board has not:
- Followed the superintendent’s contract stating that he: “shall provide proposed goals and objectives….”
- Followed SB policy that states: the superintendent will “provide to the SB a work plan designed to implement the goals….”
- Followed the VDOE Guidelines for evaluating the superintendent.
- Implemented the six researched-based (Lorenzen and McCaw) best practices, namely:
1. Establish specific goals focused on student achievement.
2. Develop a plan to achieve goals and how the superintendent will demonstrate progress.
3. Communicate goals/plan to the community.
4. Base contract decisions on objective evaluation of performance against the goals.
5. Base SB work on district goals. Put goals on SB agenda.
6. Monitor progress towards goals – quarterly
Can School Boards make a difference? Research says “yes.” Would following these practices override our challenges? I have no clue, but the SB has a responsibility to do them. The question is: Do they have the will? To quote Dr. Gore: “Get in the game or get out. Don’t waste district time or students’ precious learning opportunities.”
Has there been improvement? Yes, but if we are looking to improve the schools and have them be where we want them to be, then having the SB fully engaged in practices known to improve schools is a good place to start and, indeed, to follow its own policies.
We have a community that gives generously to our schools. We have many students who are eager to learn. We have many hardworking teachers and administrators who are responsible for setting goals, implementing research-based programs and practices and who are held accountable for doing so. The SB should hold itself to no less of a high a standard. The students, parents, and community deserve no less. As a community, we need to hold our School Board accountable.