For more than two years, the Monroe School Board has been taking a course on how to excel as a governing body, and that training is in part what led to the award of significant honor recently given to the board for achievement, said board president Tom McIntyre last week.
The Monroe School District Board of Directors was named a Board of Distinction Nov. 26 by the Washington State School Directors’ Association, one of 23 boards in the state so honored.
School boards must apply to be considered for the honor. The board must provide essays and evidence of collaboration, high expectations for all students, communication with the public and measurement of progress, among other things.
Boards that achieve 80 percent or higher by a review panel win the honor.
Being an effective school board can be tough, said McIntyre.
“I have a friend who was a teacher with a seven-person school board for a district with 46 students in the junior high,” said McIntyre. “He said the worst thing he did in a month was go to that meeting because it was seven people with an axe to grind.”
In order to address the problems of boards like that, in 2000 a group of researchers in Iowa conducted a study of effective school boards, and identified what made them work so well. The researchers also did studies that showed a link between the quality of a school board and the academic achievement of students.
The researchers created a program called the Lighthouse Project to help school districts function better. Boards who take the program attend education “modules” over the course of a year or more, with the help of a facilitator.
“Our district picked it up,” said Monroe School District Superintendent Ken Hoover. “That really got us to talking a lot together about what we can do to help improve student learning as our primary focus.”
One of the most useful things the board learned was the importance of good data, said McIntyre.
“We keep getting better data, and we can make better decisions, and we get it quicker, and so our decisions are being based on data rather than anecdotal evidence,” he said.
“There’s assessment data, data about perceptions of parents, students and the community, there’s feedback from staff, state and district assessments and assessment with the curriculum we use,” said school district spokesperson Rosemary O’Neil. “The biggest thing is that the board is looking for results.”
The board has completed the Lighthouse Project, but is still pursuing education. The members are all reading a book called “Good Governance is a Choice,” written for boards about good time management, focus and effective government.
Monday, Dec. 10, the board plans to learn from others around the state when Bob Hughes, a member of the Washington State Board of Education who served 29 years on the Lake Washington School Board, and who has traveled and studied many other boards, will come to the school board meeting to share what he has learned.
“Whenever I’ve talked to him, I’ve come away inspired and informed,” said school board member Nancy Truitt Pierce.
And this winter, the board will also seek to learn from the community, said O’Neil.
“In January, the board will launch a Great Expectations Listening Tour to listen to what people think is important, and what are the positives and where are the challenges,” she said. “We are happy to have an invitation to any gathering where folks would like to participate in that process.”
It’s part of a philosophy of self-education, she said.
“I believe what the board is modeling is what we are trying to instill in our schools, which is learning for life,” said O’Neil. “There is always improvement to be made.”
The Board of Distinction honor, given this year to just 23 out of 295 Washington school districts, is evidence that the district is on the right track, said McIntyre.
“It’s affirmation that we are moving in the right direction,” he said.