In Policy or Not Policy?

When I was considering running for the School Board in 2010 an early step was to visit the Rock Hill Schools web site to download and study all the Policies concerning the Board of Trustees.

These are contained in Section B of the School Board Policy Manual; a compendium of education-related requirements primarily as established by the SC Legislature over time.  These Policies guide both the instructional program and the management of the district and its schools.  The South Carolina School Board Association  compiles and sends these policies to local school districts. They provide yearly updates to keep school districts current on changes in state law or other regulations.  Local districts often modify them as needed for local needs.

I knew this as a principal because I would receive packets of Policies which it was my job to read, disseminate, and then file in our ever-enlarging Policy Manual held by each school.    Now of course, all this information is on the web.

All Board related policies are in section B; other sections deal with, for example, (I) Instruction, (J) Students, (K) Public Relations through (L) Organizational Relations.  Each has many sub-sections.  There are 40 sub sections under School Board policies from BA (Operational Goals) to BK (Membership in Professional Organizations).  Most sub-sections consist of lists of requirements one or more pages long.   Most seem straightforward in their intent and expectation.  However, to me at least, not all seem clear in what specific action of mine and/or the Board would fulfil the intent of the directive.

As a Rock Hill Herald article reported on June 28, Rock Hill Three was recently evaluated for accreditation by a group called AdvanceEd.  As a result of their recommendations, the School Board plans to reexamine the policies related to its functions (Section B, click here for the District Web page linking to these Section B documents).  A committee of three Board members and seven school district administrators will meet regularly over the next months to achieve greater clarity in interpreting policy and to evaluate the Board’s fidelity in carrying out their intent. The weekly meetings will be open to anyone to attend. The first one will be on July 14, 2014 at District Office and repeat each Monday until the task is completed. This process may take some time since there are near 100 pages of policy directing Board actions.

As always, the opinions I express in my blog are mine and should not be taken as reflective of Board position.   I am pleased we will be having this examination.   First, many of these policies were written in 1978.  Many were revised in 1998.  That doesn’t mean that they are not still relevant but their age does suggest a review of some might be needed.

Second, as I said above, it seems to me that there are some inconsistences between policies.  For example, BA:  School Board Operational Goals states

The board sets the long-range vision for the school district. Examples include strategic planning, budget planning, other planning procedures such as facilities planning or curriculum audit, inclusion of all community groups, and taking a proactive stance for education.

With just this policy I would infer we should be involved in the planning of the budget, etc.

However, BDD Board-Superintendent Relations state several policies formatted so that “The superintendent will…..” is parallel to “The Board will….”

The superintendent will prepare and submit an annual budget to the board for consideration. Versus – The board will adopt an annual budget.

The superintendent will keep the board informed on financial matters by sound long-range planning and keep current expenditures within the approved budget. Versus The board will exercise sound judgment in business affairs of the school corporation.

However, the board will require and discuss reports of the superintendent concerning the progress of the schools in terms of achievements of pupils, teachers, and supervisors.  Versus The superintendent will formulate and administer means of evaluating staff members and report finding to the board.  (This section for the superintendent says nothing about reporting to the board on the “progress of the schools,” etc.  which were listed on the board side and should be included.)

I like this directive which was listed for both.  Remember that schools exist for the benefit of the students and the community. I also like the prospect of looking for such contradictions, omissions, and talking about our interpretations.  This will make us better board members.

The third reason I’m glad this examination of policy will take place is in the nature of boards; at least this one.  We all bring to our service on the Board different backgrounds which influence our interest and attention.  Because of my long years as a principal I am tremendously attentive to the progress of our students and work to ensure teachers are provided what they need to be effective. Of course, there are others on the board who share this immersion in classrooms with me.  Others on our board are from business backgrounds and make sure our financial house is in order.  Some have long experience on the board and bring that valuable knowledge.  Another does a good job of representing community and parent points of view.  What is absolutely common to all of us is that we are passionate about the importance of public schools.

What we need, perhaps, to work is to work on more effectively blending these disparate backgrounds and interests into the focused team which will help us achieve what all of us want for our students and community.  Studying policy together may help us to a greater agree blend me into we.

I also think this is a propitious beginning for inaugurating our relationship with our new superintendent, Dr. Pew. This offers the chance to clarify the boundaries of the playing field for all.  I have enjoyed working with Dr. Pew since she arrived in May and have greatly liked her immediate attention to the performance of our students.  I predict a good future for Rock Hill Three.  My intent and hope is to continue to be a part of the Rock Hill 3 Board and part of her support team.

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