School board ponders restructuring committees
Fairfield school board president Jennifer Anderson proposed restructuring the board’s committees based on a model she learned about in the Indianola Community School District.
“I think superintendent Art Sathoff does a good job with the administrative team, but we as board members are not always aware of what is going on,” said Anderson during a work session Monday to set board goals for the 2013-14 school year.
“Indianola has a model of two regular board meetings a month and six committee meetings each month,” she said. “The committees bring their work to the whole board and it’s what drives the discussions and agendas at the regular board meetings.”
Anderson shared her written suggestions with board members: “The six committees with three board members each, meet each month with administration members to work on topics and events happening in various sectors of the district’s operations. From the committee meetings, suggestions and recommendations are made that eventually make it to the board table. This has worked to develop a deeper level of understanding and trust between the board and the district’s administrators. This could replace the work sessions held in the past. This will only work if the entire administration and school board agrees.”
Currently, Fairfield school board meets in regular session the third Monday of each month and holds board work sessions on the fourth Monday of the month when needed. Work sessions are open to the public, but no voting action is taken. Committee meetings, also open to the public, involve three school board members with other district staff/administrators and are held as needed, also with no voting action.
Anderson likes the idea of the committees meeting on a regular schedule and doing the deeper research on topics and issues to present to the full board at regular meetings for further discussion and action.
Using Indianola’s model, Anderson proposed adding new school board committees Fairfield has not had — a curriculum committee to study school improvement and staff professional development; a technology committee; a human resources committee to deal with contract negotiations, salaries, insurance and criteria for staff reduction; and a facilities committee.
The board would continue having a Finance Committee and a Policy Committee. Fairfield has had a negotiations committee, which involved some of the same issues as the proposed human resource committee.
Various district administrators would also attend specific committee meetings, such as auxiliary services director Fred McElwee would serve on the proposed facilities committee; district business manager Kim Sheets would serve on the proposed finance committee; and district curriculum director Marci Dunlap would serve on the proposed curriculum committee.
“I realize this could be too much change at once, and maybe we’ll start with beginning the committees and working toward those committees setting the board agendas,” said Anderson.
Board members present, Rich Metcalf, Jeremy Miller, Joe Carr and Kate Van Pelt, were receptive to the idea, but discussed how to make the process workable.
School board members Jerry Nelson and Amy Miller were absent Monday.
Sathoff said he’d like to attend each committee meeting and would need to attend most, but adding six more meetings a month will be challenging.
“You’ll run into problems some evening with events supervision for some administrators,” Sathoff said.
“I like these committee designations, it addresses some areas we haven’t had before,” he said.
Board members discussed having some committee meetings at lunchtime, right after school and in conjunction with board work sessions on the fourth Monday of the month.
Monday, Metcalf agreed to continue as the school board representative on the Reconsideration Committee; Metcalf and Nelson will continue to serve on the Vertical Teams; Nelson will continue on the Jefferson County Conference Board and was appointed to serve as the district’s Iowa Association of School Boards’ delegate; and Van Pelt volunteered to serve on the Education Foundation.
The board members along with Sathoff and Dunlap proposed four goals for the school board to adopt this year.
1. The school board will facilitate an environment where data informs actions, which achieve results.
The goal incorporates topics and issues involving:
• Board curriculum committee.
• Special programs.
• Committee structure at board meetings and advisories.
• School improvement and professional development.
• Alignment of Iowa Core.
2. The board will chart a course of the future of technology in the district.
• Address technical infrastructure needs throughout the district.
• Study best practices in technology integration.
• Board’s technology committee.
3. Fairfield Community School District will appropriately budget and manage district funds.
• Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (S.A.V.E.) funds.
• Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) funds.
• Nutrition funds.
• Special education funds.
• Human resources.
• End the year with Unspent Authorized Budget fund with at least $1.25 million.
4. Improved relationships through stronger communications.
• Board — administration.
• Administration — faculty.
• Board — public.
• School — stakeholders.
Before brain-storming school board goals, the members reviewed Comprehensive School Improvement Plan (CSIP) goals, Annual Progress Report (APR) goals, grade level goals throughout the district, superintendent’s and curriculum director’s goals, and board goals from the previous three years.
“We’ve been talking more specifics each year, and are concentrating on academic achievement in our goals,” said Sathoff.
Board meeting suggestions
Miller asked if the board could have more presentations at school board meetings by teachers about what students are learning.
“I need to know more about how Iowa Core is being implemented and what the issues are, and more about how data is informing teaching,” said Anderson.
Sathoff said principals and administrators could report on anything the board requests.
“I recommend the board adopting some type of questioning protocol,” said Dunlap. “When you’re not in this daily, you might not know the questions to ask.”
Dunlap said for instance, if a principal or another administrator, including herself, reports test scores show such-and-such a group or grade level is not meeting a goal, the question could be — why? When a reply is given, ask why again, and again to the next reply.
“Drilling down into the whys and answers can bring more information,” she said.
“I agree the board could learn more and be better informed about instruction and academics,” she said.
Prior to the work session, the board met in special session to approve:
• Bus driver Kenneth Norton’s resignation and re-hiring bus driver Nancy Asby.
• A cooperative agreement for girls swimming with Mount Pleasant for the 2013-14 school year. One girl from Mount Pleasant is interested in joining the Fairfield High School swim team. Fairfield has held cooperative agreements with Mount Pleasant for girls swimming in the past.
“It wasn’t last year, but we’ve had an agreement in the past,” said Sathoff.
• The district achievement goals as presented by Dunlap. These include Early Intervention goals in literacy and At-Risk programs; CSIP, APR and grade-level goals in literacy, math, science, technology and At-Risk programs.