Helping a Board of Education Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing
There is a time-honored management axiom that stipulates, "What gets monitored gets done." It’s another way of saying that we express our priorities by what we pay attention to rather than what we profess, or "actions speak louder than words."
Virtually every school district professes that its fundamental mission is to ensure all students learn, yet the boards of education that oversee that mission often pay far more attention to mundane items than to monitoring student learning. I have seen a board devote 90 minutes to debating whether the new tractor for the football field should be a John Deere or a Ford; nothing on their agenda dealt even remotely with student learning.
One question that arises from time to time is how central office leaders can help the board of education focus on learning. The board of education of Adlai Stevenson High School District 125 in Lincolnshire, Illinois, provides some great examples of a board that constantly returns to the question, how do we know if our district is becoming more effective in fulfilling its fundamental purpose—ensuring that our students are learning? Here are some of their strategies for answering that question.
First, the board adopted a vision statement and leadership commitments that focused on student learning as the primary policy. All other decisions had to be aligned with it. They adopted the policy in 1983 and have revisited it three times to make slight adjustments in the past 30 years. You can see the vision statement at http://www.d125.org/about/district_125_board_of_education_vision_statement.aspx.
You can see the leadership team (board and administrators) commitments to support the district vision at http://www.d125.org/about/collective_commitments_board_and_admin_team.aspx.
Second, the board has maintained three overarching goals linked to student achievement for over 20 years: 1) eliminate failure, 2) increase the percentage of students succeeding in our most rigorous curriculum, and 3) improve our student achievement on statewide tests (which in Illinois includes the ACT exam for all juniors).
Third, the board is presented with a detailed overview of student achievement at different board meetings. You can see the Academic Achievement Report by visiting http://www.d125.org/about/reports_and_documents.aspx and clicking on the 2011–12 Academic Achievement Report. Different sections are reviewed at different meetings. Note the report provides information over time so the board can see the direction the district is going. Note also that it includes local, state, and national indicators. You will note that 45 credits are required for graduation, but only 4 percent of graduates meet the minimum and over 60 percent earn the equivalent of an extra semester or year of learning.
Fourth, the board reviews students’ perceptions of their learning in an annual report, as well as the perceptions of graduates one year and five years after their graduation. The board wants to know if teachers are preparing students to succeed in continuing their education beyond high school, so they survey a random sampling of graduates each year to monitor their success in higher education. You can see the report at http://www.d125.org/student_services/annual_student_survey_results.aspx.
Fifth, the board has a collaborative team report on student learning at every board meeting.
In his book, The Servant Leader, James Autry wrote: "And regardless of your own perceptions of yourself, those around you in the workplace—colleagues and employees—can determine who you are only by observing what you do. They can’t see inside your head, they can’t know what you think, or how you feel, they can’t subliminally detect your compassion or pain or joy or goodwill. In other words, the only way you can manifest your character, your personhood, and your spirit in the workplace is through your behavior."
The observable behavior of the board of education of District 125 leaves no question about what the members value.