What are the duties of a school board member?Ask any of the current board members and they will likely give you an answer something like the following:
To provide oversight of the operations of the schools in a manner that ensures that
students receive a high quality access to education in core subjects, career education, and the fine arts, appropriate to their individual ability levels,
with counseling services and other supports to enable them to benefit as much as possible,
in an environment free of physical violence, bullying, or harassment,
with a supplemental mission to provide educational opportunities for the wider community,
and that in a manner that is fiscally responsible, bearing in mind the financial limitations of district residents and their multiple tax burdens.
(That’s my own writing rather than the official “mission” but you get the picture.)
But the reality is different.
The “duties of a board member,” as exemplified by the words and actions of the current board members of District 214, are simply these: to be a cheerleader for district students and staff and promote the district’s successes to the community and the country.
The current slate, which, again, controls each of the seats and had done so for 15 years, calls itself the Supporters of District 214, and they put this into action by acting as mere boosters rather than a supervisory board.
As an individual, and with the belief that I speak for many others, I have written about various concerns with the district, and I and others have attempted to get the school board to address our concerns. But the past school board meeting, on August 25, illustrated the board’s “cheerleader” role in two more quite appalling ways.
Behavior incident metrics failure
First, school staff presented an update on the Learning Renewal Plan. In it (at the 46 minute mark) they touted their success in reducing “behavior incidents” — with a 9% reduction from the 2019 school year to the 2022 school year. That sounds pretty impressive indeed.
But the reality is that they achieve this “success story” by massaging the numbers. The “behavior incidents” they reported on include unexcused absences and tardies. Looking only at fighting and disruptive behavior, it’s an entirely different story. The following two graphs are based on my own analysis of FOIA data — and, for clarification, the Spring 2022 data that was provided to me consists of only Q3, which, to render the comparisons valid, I have doubled for these charts. The story they tell is that, when it comes to student behaviors that directly impact the safety and well-being of students around them, student behavior incidents were much, much higher this past year — yet the school board prefers a cheerful report that makes for good press over the reality, and as a consequence fails to do its duty to oversee the school and work to remedy its problems.
In total, the number of incidents/students disciplined for fighting or disruptive behavior increased from 420 to 1298, from Spring 2019 to Fall 2021, with a slight drop to 1200 in Spring 2022. Looking at fighting alone, the counts increased from 124 to 537, then down moderately to 414. In percentage terms, fighting and disruptive behavior counts increased 186% and fighting counts increased 234%.
And, again, the school board is keeping this all swept under the rug rather than demonstrating to the community that work is underway to solve the problem.
Instructional goal oversight failure
As I write this, it is September 13th and the district has just released the agenda for the September 15th board meeting, at which the district goals, mission, and vision are slated to be approved. Much of this is boilerplate, and other aspects are prescribed by the state. There are a few statements which are worthy of an eyeroll, such as the fact that a part of the “District 214 Vision” is “A Board of Education that . . . involves school and community members in decision-making processes.” (Yes, this is absurd not only due to the explicit rejection of any community role in its covid closure decisions, but also because, going on 40 years ago, the district made a charade of inviting community input into its school closures, then rejecting their recommendations entirely when they didn’t produce the desired outcome.)
But the key point in this document is the second of the two instructional goals, which reads as follows:
As measured by the growth from PSAT to SAT, the percent of students meeting or exceeding national growth norms from PSAT to SAT will increase annually or will exceed a threshold established by the Board after two years of data are collected and analyzed.
This goal has been unchanged since August 26, 2016, according to the Internet Archive. And 2016 was, in fact, the year in which the state changed from the ACT to the SAT. Two years after this date, the Board would have indeed had the necessary two years of data to establish the planned threshold. In other words, not only does the board not report to the community on how the district is faring in meeting its instructional goals, but for four years running, the board has failed in achieving the bare minimum of revising this goal.
What’s worse, at the August 25 board meeting, when the re-approval of goals was on the agenda as a discussion item, I used the public comment opportunity to point to the fact that this goal was four years out-of-date and needed to be updated. Revising this goal to reflect the fact that the two years of data was collected four years ago, should have been a simple task and an easy way to demonstrate to the community that they are engaging in a bare minimum of oversight and engagement with their responsibilities. But the document is unchanged from the version presented on August 25.
This is appalling.
A school board which sits passively and does nothing more than vote “yes” and applaud the staff does not deserve, in any way, to be re-elected. We are just about at “petition-gathering” time for the April 2023 school board election. Therefore, I call upon the community to nominate candidates who will take their responsibilities seriously.
— Authored by Elizabeth Bauer