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Our answers to the School Board effectiveness survey

As you may know, the Florida Times-Union is asking community members, including JPEF, about their views for an upcoming series the paper is putting together on school board effectiveness, as part of their Hope (formerly City of Hope) series.
Our staff and board chair collaborated in response, and we wanted to share the answers. We tried to be very thoughtful and data-driven, as well as to hold true to highlighting practices that needed to improve such that the interests of students are better served. In the interests of transparency, we wanted to post the full answers to this survey to this blog.
If you want to take this questionnaire yourself, click here to fill it out.
-- Trey

Duval County Public Schools' draft vision is that "All students will fulfill their potential to learn to their highest level of intellectual, social and emotional ability and graduate with the ability to innovate and think critically. Duval County Public Schools students will be empowered with the prerequisites to be successful in postsecondary education, reflect the best values of society and excel in an internationally competitive workforce." What do you think of the Duval County School Board's draft vision?
The Board's vision is strongly worded and appropriately focused on ensuring all students-regardless of race, income level or other demographic factors-graduate from public school college and career ready. Having these strong core beliefs is essential to stay the course during these challenging times.

How clearly stated and communicated to the community is the board's vision?
The vision is clearly stated, but the Board needs to increase the effectiveness of its communication with the community about this vision as well as the strategies they believe will move our community closer to it. They should consistently make decisions in accordance with this vision and strengthen their communication to citizens about how the actions of the school district directly connect to its attainment.
 
What do you think of the Duval County School Board's goals toward accomplishing its vision?
The district's strategic plan is an admirable effort to lay out how to move this district to the next level. Its 17 strategies and 65 measurable objectives, however, are too numerous to give a sense of prioritization. That can make it hard for the public to know what the most important objectives are - and therefore they have trouble seeing success as the clear product of a deliberate set of actions. The Board should consider focusing on 2-3 priorities that would make the biggest impact on student achievement.
 
How unified are Duval County School Board members around their belief about students' abilities to learn and the district's ability to teach students?
All of our school board members believe strongly that all students can learn.
How frequently do Duval County School Board members refer to external pressures and issues as reasons for lack of student success?
School Board members discuss external pressures - such as lack of adequate resources, unfunded mandates, state and national accountability measures, students' home environments and poverty - at length. Frequently, members of the School Board offer these factors as an explanation for why students are not succeeding.
These issues are extremely challenging for all urban school districts. Research shows, however, that low-income and minority students can meet the same high expectations when taught by high-quality professional educators in safe and engaging school environments. There are many concrete steps - some outlined in the recent Education Resource Strategies report - that our district could take to improve education quality for students who struggle the most. While our nation and community should continue working to address social problems, we must also redouble our efforts to educate children affected by these issues such that they achieve at the same levels as their wealthier peers.
How well does the School Board hold itself accountable for meeting its goals?

The School Board has not clearly held itself accountable when goals are not met. But research suggests that self-evaluation by School Board members can help to build trust with administrators, teachers, parents and the community. The recent decision by Chairwoman Burney and Vice Chairman Lee to move to a system of quarterly goals is a huge step in the right direction. It should be accompanied by additional efforts at boosting transparency into the system and its processes.
 
How well does the School Board balance its time between focusing on academic policies to improve achievement and focusing on day-to-day operational matters?
The School Board spends a disproportionate amount of time on day-to-day operational matters, limiting the time they can spend identifying key strategic priorities, setting policy and reviewing progress. The Board must work through its sole employee, the Superintendent, to reach its goals. When the School Board focuses too much on operations, it distracts the Board, district staff and the public from focusing on student achievement and how to improve it.
 
How well does the School Board use data in relation to academic achievement?
The School Board has begun to use data to inform their decisions, but it is not always consistently used. The Board should take the lead in creating a district culture that prioritizes the proactive and regular collection, analysis and distribution of information, particularly around program effectiveness. They are hampered, however, by an aging data infrastructure and the lack of a self-service way of accessing district information.
 
How well does the School Board work with the superintendent? Do they lead as a team and trust each other? How could the relationship be improved, if needed?
The School Board is should be less involved in the day-to-day management of the district. To be so involved raises serious questions about their faith in the Superintendent and his ability to accomplish the goals set before him. The Board should provide strategic direction to the Superintendent and hold him to account for his success or lack thereof. To not renew a Superintendent's contract is the ultimate form of accountability, but should never come as a surprise. The Board should make sure that the Superintendent receives feedback on an ongoing basis about his/her success in meeting the goals set forth by the Board. Where constituents contact Board members regarding problems, members should route those complaints through the appropriate chain of command for resolution.
 
How would an appointed school board's impact on student achievement be different from an elected school board, or would it?
While some see an appointed board as a cure-all that would alleviate every ill facing the school district, there is no conclusive research showing that appointed boards are more or less effective than elected boards. While there are modifications that could be applied to our current elected board-such as the addition of some number of at-large districts to provide city-wide perspective-the real and sustainable answer to maintaining an effective school board is an engaged and involved electorate that is not afraid to voice its beliefs to its elected officials and hold them accountable for the performance of the district. With historically low turnout in school board elections in Jacksonville, we are clearly a long way from this vision of success.
 
Rate this School Board's effectiveness in improving student achievement.
Needs improvement