Tuesday, December 23, 2014

School Board Governance and the Importance of Culture

Much has been written and debated about the role of today’s school boards and how board governance impacts student performance.  On the surface, it’s obvious that board actions dictate policies and practices that (should, at least) promote opportunities for students to excel.  But how does the way that the board goes about its business contribute and how important is culture in ensuring that these opportunities exist?

As the word implies, as trustees, we have numerous obligations to those who have elected us, ranging from fiscal management to overseeing the operations of the district.  But we are much more than that; we have been entrusted by our communities, parents and students to make decisions and to act in the best interests of those stakeholders; our culture is an essential element in doing so.  How well do we do in fulfilling those obligations?  Do we continuously act in a manner that keeps the well-being of the student at the forefront of all that we do, or do we let ourselves get sidetracked by other issues?

Following up on our year one “road trip” talking about the opportunities created by HB 5, Bobby J Rigues, Aledo ISD trustee, and I will be presenting at Winter Governance and both Summer Leadership Institutes, with our focus this year on school board governance.  We’ll be joined by Dr. Jamie Wilson, Superintendent of Denton ISD, a strong proponent of good board governance.  The discussion of school board governance is one that is grounded in state statute but our focus will be more on how culture and governance drive positive outcomes than the statutes themselves.

In upcoming blogs, we’ll start the discussion that leads up to these conferences.  So let’s look further at the culture of the district and the communities it serves.  When we were elected as trustees (there’s that word again!), the expectation was that we would have our hands on the pulse of the community.  But do we?  Do we know what is most important to our stakeholders?  Or are we operating in a vacuum, focusing solely on actions taken by the board and administration?  It certainly is possible for a district’s students to succeed without a culture of sound governance.  But I would argue that this is not sustainable long term.

So what are the elements of culture that promote sound governance?  I believe that it starts with communication and relationships.  What is the relationship between the superintendent and the board of trustees?  And what about the relationship among trustees?  Is it one of trust and sharing of information, or is it one where each trustee is focused solely on self-interests without consideration for doing what is best for students?  Good governance is a direct result of honest communications and trust among the entire team of eight.

We all like to think we are doing the best that we can and it’s likely that few are working to undermine the efforts of the district.  Challenge yourselves as a team of eight, however, to think “kids first” and openly share with one another personal values and beliefs that impact your district’s culture.  Good governance suggests that a sound culture will be the cornerstone of the success of students in your district.  And, remember, your students are depending on you to make sound decisions that reflect good governance; anything less leaves them potentially unable to fulfill their individual potential and promise.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Trustees and Parents – The Need to Inform and Engage

Bobby J Rigues, Aledo ISD trustee, founder of the Make Education a Priority grassroots initiative (now adopted by more than 60% of school districts in Texas), and my co-presenter at Winter Governance and SLI, recently wrote an op-ed piece that I think is worthy of discussion here.  While not directly relating to HB 5, which has largely been the subject of my blogs, he touches on a topic that is equally as critical to the success of our students, namely the active involvement of parents in their child’s education. 

Without simply republishing his article, while perhaps that would make sense, I do want to take the opportunity to note his key points and to offer my own thoughts on exactly what it means to us as trustees and as parents.  Implementation of HB 5 has brought about a heightened awareness of the need for all of us to focus on how we align the curriculum offered with the interests and aspirations of our students.  And who better to help both the schools and the students move in that direction than parents of our children.

Quoting from Bobby’s op-ed, “Elementary children are now exposed to new levels of rigorous learning. Middle school students are being introduced to the value of high school academic planning. High school students are now offered additional course choices to engage interest. Our sons and daughters will be graduating with diplomas reflecting a personal interest in their education.”  As trustees and parents, the obligation to align the student interests with curriculum and to meet the challenges of tomorrow lies not just with the schools but with us as well. 

Bobby further noted that the Texas Education Code defines ten objectives for public education, the first of which focuses on the role of the parent in public education.  TEC Sec. 4.001. (b) Objective 1 states; Parents will be full partners with educators in the education of their children.”  The key word here is “partners”, a concept that was also at the core of HB 5 when discussing community and student engagement.  Except that the Texas Education Code brings this obligation right into our own homes!  As Bobby noted, “If our children are the beneficiaries of learning, parents are the foundation of the delivery system known as public education.”

So how do we, as trustees and parents engage in partnerships with our public schools?  Not to oversimplify the response, but the first requirement is to ensure that the topic of public education stays on the radar of those elected to serve us.  In the 84th legislative session, we can expect to hear a great deal about charters, vouchers and other alternatives to public education.  Note that I did not use the phrase “school choice” since school choice, by definition, includes our public schools … but not without the active involvement of us as parents.

We can anticipate that public education will be a part of perhaps as many as 900 of the anticipated 5000-6000 bills to be filed during the upcoming session.  And while only about 12-15% of those will actually be signed into law, each and every bill put into law will impact public education, either positively or adversely.  So whether relating to curriculum, assessment and accountability, all elements of HB 5, or other topics such as school calendars and privacy, we all have a stake in the outcomes. 

As trustees and as parents, we have an obligation to inform and engage.  But it has to start with each of us understanding the need to do so and then taking steps to that end. It’s incumbent that we engage, not just because the Texas Education Code says we should, but because our children can only succeed with the active and ongoing involvement of those who provide the most fundamental element of the support structure for our children, all of us as parents.  Our kids are watching; let's not disappoint them!   

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

HB 5 and Beyond – One District’s Success Story

In my last blog, “It’s Year 2, so what do we do?”, I referenced some of the next steps in implementing HB 5, focusing on the importance of outcomes, not just the process relating to Community and Student engagement ratings.  Surprisingly, I have gotten feedback that suggests that a small number of districts actually did very little in year one, believing that HB 5 is a “stop along the way” and that the next legislative session will result in significant changes to, or overturning of, HB 5.

Admittedly, we have no way of knowing exactly what the legislature, under new leadership, will do on the public education front.  There will continue to be significant conversation about charters and vouchers as a part of the school choice discussion.  Remember that public education is, in fact, a part of the school choice dialog; we must be very clear in conveying that message to our representatives in Austin.  Enough preaching, however.

One of the challenges of HB 5 is that it does not offer specific guidance on how to address the requirements of the legislation, only a framework and time lines for reporting of certain data.  Instead, it gives individual school districts the flexibility to define their unique approach to the options and opportunities embodied in the bill.  So we have a choice – do we move forward with implementation of HB 5, or do we stand by passively and wait for guidance?  My guess is that formal guidance will not come, so the latter option seems rather foolhardy to me.

Instead, let’s follow the lead of Garland ISD, a large district just north of Dallas.  In a series of presentations at Winter Governance and both SLI’s, Bobby J Rigues and I highlighted Garland as one of those districts that stepped up and aggressively defined a systematic approach to capitalize on HB 5 opportunities.  GISD administration defined a plan and then followed that plan, to the benefit of the students in their district. 

Here are some of the highlights of their plan and outcomes from their efforts.

In the fall of 2013, GISD created four implementation task forces:
Ø  Foundations Program/4-year Plan
Ø  Endorsements/Course Offerings
Ø  Business and Higher Education Partnerships
Ø  Accountability and Assessment

Foundations Program
GISD embarked on a significant communications program, including conducting parent meetings and hosting a Student Career Expo.  They developed a Foundation High School Course Guide and a Career and Technology (CTE) brochure.  As they moved into 2014, they updated the program guide, held additional parent meetings surrounding HB 5, and conducted senior interviews for each student.

Endorsements and Course Offerings
GISD spent considerable time aligning existing curriculum with the five defined endorsement opportunities.  As part of their communications efforts, they developed a short information film, as well as course guides for each High School and a list of endorsements for CTE.  They have since updated and communicated the FHSP summary document.

Business and Higher Education Partnerships
Beginning with a definition of CTE opportunities and targets, the committee sought out business partnerships for participation in the Student Career Expo.  They established relationships with institutions of higher education (IHE), including Texas A&M-Commerce, Eastland College, and Richland College.  In early 2014, GISD hosted a series of industry sessions, including construction, hospitality and tourism, and health sciences, and expanded dual credit opportunities for their students.

Accountability and Assessment
The Accountability and Assessment Committee went through the process of completing and reporting on self-evaluation criteria for all campuses and the district.  In 2014, the committee is reviewing the self-evaluation criteria and rubric, similar to the approach adopted by Carroll ISD and highlighted in my last blog.

So where are you in implementing HB 5 opportunities?  Are you still in the starting blocks, waiting (or hoping) for the next session to change the overall framework relating to local control and governance?  Or are you at the other end of the spectrum and aggressively implementing programs your district defined that align with the needs of your community and the students you serve?  I certainly encourage you to push forward, to listen to your communities and students, and to take actions that provide the greatest benefit to your students. 

While we may not control the discussion surrounding school choice, we certainly can take steps to strengthen public education.  House Bill 5 gave us that opportunity, an opportunity that we must pursue if we are to retain local governance but, more importantly, an opportunity to provide our students with resources and programs that align with their interests.  Remember, it is all about the kids!  Make sure you keep that in mind in all that you do relating to HB 5.

Monday, October 27, 2014

HB 5: “It's year 2, so what do we do?”

Now that we have completed our year one obligations under HB5, it's time to begin focusing on what we must do in year 2.  Much like other aspects of HB 5, the legislation does not specifically define what we must do other than to provide guidelines for areas to assess, and deadlines for reporting of results relating to the Community and Student Engagement requirement. 

So what do we do now as we move into 2014-2015?  Remember that the single greatest risk relating to HB 5 is not simply the ratings themselves, but the failure on the part of school boards and districts to act upon the requirements defined in Section 46 of HB 5, which includes an evaluation of:
√  The level and quality of engagement between the community and its students;
√  Showcasing where districts and campuses are excelling; and
√  Determining opportunities for districts and campuses to improve.
There are certainly some within the legislature who are just waiting for inaction as a reason to repeal HB 5 requirements and, once again, push for even greater state oversight.  It's up to us to ensure that this does not happen.

Put simply, the first year of self-reporting for Community and Student Engagement (CSE) could be classified as a "process" focused effort.  Districts had to determine the process they would follow in defining those metrics that address each of the nine areas defined in HB 5.  Did we use an existing committee or did we form a new committee to define the evaluation criteria?  Did we already have a set of criteria or did we look to other resources, including our regional service centers, for references on how to construct these criteria?  And once we defined the criteria to be evaluated, how did we then assign a rating at both the campus level and the district level?  Not an easy effort to go through but it truly was about process, wasn't it?

With process behind us, we can now look to a different focus, this time on "outcomes".  More specifically, instead of looking back at how we did compared to the defined evaluation criteria, we now have an opportunity to look forward to specific accomplishments we strive to achieve.  For many of us, we may simply use the same criteria that we did in completing the evaluations in 2013-2014.  For others, we may choose to modify those based on our current environment or recognition that there are other elements that can positively impact our performance as a school district.

So how will your district decide “what to do in year 2” and how will you approach this?  While still only a consideration, my district is looking at a two-step approach.  Step one is to look at the relevance of last year's evaluation criteria and determine what changes need to be made for the CSE 2014-2015 rating submission.  This likely will involve the same district committee approach adopted in the first year.  Step 2 is to undertake an effort to move forward and establish the 2015-2016 school year CSE tool and consider new criteria that the district might target over the coming months and into the next school year.  This would allow next year’s committee to evaluate a CSE tool that was established for a reasonable amount of time to accomplish each goal or criteria.

Looking at how we evaluate our performance, this may be an opportune time to blend several different data elements, including, as an example, CSE evaluation criteria, district improvement plans and a district’s strategic plan.  There is likely a commonality across each of these resources, and the opportunities presented by the HB 5 CSE requirements may provide a great vehicle for stepping back and looking not just at where we are but, more importantly, where want to be in each of the nine areas defined within HB 5.

One other consideration worthy of discussion is to expand the participation of our students in the discussions.  Who better to help us frame our efforts than the students, our primary customers, who actually reap the benefits.  We can talk ad nauseam about what we think is good for students but let's understand their perspective; we will all be better for it.

There certainly is plenty to do relating to HB 5 as we move into year 2.  Don't let this opportunity pass you and your students by.  The time is now for us to aggressively embrace HB 5 and to take those steps that will help ensure fulfillment of the long term opportunities presented to us.  Our students deserve nothing less!

Monday, October 13, 2014

School Choice and the Need for Advocacy

Well, after a hiatus to celebrate the success of HB 5 implementation, it’s time to reengage.  And I do mean “reengage”!

Faye Beaulieu, immediate past president of the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB), wrote an article in the August, 2014 edition of the Texas Lone Star magazine that pointed out what should be a very key consideration when we discuss the topic of “school choice”.  Quoting Faye from the article, “… too many times (we) talk about “choice” in the education arena as a list of alternatives to our public schools.  Public education is a choice, and it deserves to top the list.”  Wow, is that a change in mindset for many of us.

Although now serving in my 10th year as a trustee in Carroll ISD, I know that I have generally centered the school choice discussion as most have, namely that school options other than public education really comprise “school choice”; that really couldn't be farther from the truth.  Thanks, Faye, for pointing that out to all of us.  So how do we reposition the conversation?

It starts with a change in mindset.  The Texas Constitution defines the requirement for us to make a free public education available to all children in the State of Texas.  But it does not entitle those of us in public education the absolute right to be the sole entities delivering education.  Trustees, staff and administrators in our public school districts must earn the right to do so, and we all must do a better job of communicating our story.

In her article, Faye continued her comments that public education is a “choice” by encouraging each of us to better equip ourselves to tell the story, regardless of the audience.  We have numerous organizations helping but, if you’re like me, you may not be fully tapping the resources that are at our fingertips.  Think about some of these for a moment and how they can help you craft and deliver your message.

Just to name a few … TASB created a site called truthaboutschools.org.  At the national level, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) created a campaign earlier this year called Stand Up 4 Public Schools (standup4publicschools.org).  And there is a complimentary site, Stand Up 4 Texas Public Schools (standup4txpublicschools.org) that promotes advocacy.  Locally, Friends of Texas Public Schools (fotps.org) and Make Education A Priority (schoolpriority.com) do an outstanding job of highlighting the accomplishments of the Texas public education system. 

But it’s one thing to have the resources available to us; it is yet another to commit to using these resources to tell the public education story, a story yearning to be heard by students, parents, community members, legislators and other stakeholders.  It’s time we told our story; it’s time that we channeled our energies toward the positives of Texas public education rather than staying on the defensive. 

Our public education system, despite challenges relating to student growth, accountability, funding and other issues, does an outstanding job of equipping our students to travel the path toward success.  Let’s make certain we are all a part of that journey!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

And Now the Successes Begin

After a Spring and early Summer where Bobby J Rigues (Aledo trustee and architect of the Make Education a Priority grassroots movement) and I had presented at several sessions attended by school board trustees from around the state, it’s now time to acknowledge and begin to celebrate some of the many successes we have heard.  And there are many!  Congratulations to districts across the state for embracing the spirit and intent of HB 5, efforts that will position local school boards very well when the 84th Legislature convenes in January.  Some districts did not move forward as the legislation (and our presentations!) might have hoped; most, however, took steps that will bear fruit for their students.

There are several ways to look at success in implementing HB 5, beginning with the approach to offering endorsements, specifically to the number of endorsements that a particular district chooses to offer.  In our early discussions with superintendents and administrators, we frequently heard, and this was especially true at smaller districts, that they might be able to offer only the Multidisciplinary endorsement in year one.  But as they stepped back and looked at the opportunity and examined their district’s curriculum, many found that they could offer at least one or two more and, in many cases, offer all five endorsements.  What an accomplishment!

For example, in my conversation with a superintendent in a central Texas 2A district, he was somewhat optimistic that he would be able to offer three endorsements.  As implementation unfolded and his district pursued the opportunities found in HB 5, they found ways to create partnerships that would expand their ability to offer an endorsement. 

Partnerships were certainly at the heart of HB 5, as shared with us by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, Chairman of the House Education Committee.  In fact, the district referenced above established partnerships at multiple levels, including the business community in their area, neighboring school districts, and local colleges.

Those attending our sessions heard us say that a district should be able to offer three endorsements without doing anything other than realigning curriculum, that according to TEA.  It would certainly appear that districts found that to be the case … and more!

While we are talking about successes, it is once again important to acknowledge the role that counselors have played in working with incoming 9th graders as they sought to select an endorsement.  For the most part, we have heard that the process of doing so has gone fairly smoothly; that is absolutely a credit to the efforts of the counselors.  And most districts did this without adding counselors to their staff if we normalize staffing based on enrollment.  That is truly a credit to the commitment of the counselors, our new education "superheroes", to ensuring the success of this aspect of HB 5.

So let’s take time (but not too much!) to celebrate the successes being achieved through the implementation of HB 5.  Students and those that we serve as trustees of our local districts are all winners in this effort.  

Friday, June 13, 2014

HB 5 and the New Education "Superheroes"

The passage of House Bill 5 in the 83rd Legislative Session created new opportunities for students who many considered to be underserved, addressed concerns raised by parents and educators alike relating to curriculum design and assessment, and established requirements for community and student engagement.  Having previously documented some of the most significant changes, I won't belabor the point or discussion about the many benefits of this critical legislation. 

So with all of the good emanating from passage of this bill, what are some of the pitfalls?  Over the next couple of blogs, I'll provide perspectives gained through conversations with a number of administrators and fellow trustees across the State of Texas.  The first will focus on what we might call the new Education Superheroes, the counselors in our middle and high schools.

The advent of HB5 and introduction of the concept of an endorsement opened up new career pursuit opportunities for a large number of students in the state. Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, Chairman of the House Education Committee, told me that he believed that as many as 40% of the 5.1 M public education students will benefit from having more career options, specifically those in the Career and Technical Education (CATE) arena.  The shift from a one-size-fits-all approach under the former 4X4 program, to one focused on individual choice tied to endorsement selection, is certainly a positive step for these students.

But this implementation of an endorsement-based approach does not come without challenges.  The most notable of these is how endorsement choices and counseling have significantly impacted the role of the counselor.  Many concluded that the main impact would be on the high school counselor as they work with incoming ninth graders.  The reality, however, is that the impact is felt equally, and perhaps even more so, at the middle school level.

The middle school counselor has a clear responsibility to start a communication process with students and parents as early as seventh grade.  What seems to be a fairly simple process of articulating endorsements offered by a district is much more than that.  Students need to understand their options and the need to begin thinking about where their interests lie.  And the role of the middle school counselor doesn't stop there.  They also have a responsibility to work with their peers at the high school level to coordinate these communications.

So when it's all said and done, and after the dust of selecting endorsements has settled, make sure that you give a hug and a thank you to the counselors that so capably serve the needs and interests of public education students across the State.  They truly are Superheroes to all of us!

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Real Value in HB 5

Well, while certainly not the only real value in HB 5, much is being written today about the positive impact of encouraging students to pursue career and technology education (CATE) options now afforded them.  As noted in prior blogs, one of the main considerations behind the initial discussions that ultimately led to drafting and passing this important piece of legislation was the feeling among many educators that the requirements pre-HB 5 limited opportunities for students, or at least that they failed to align opportunity with student interest.

I happened to be reading my “local” newspaper (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram) earlier today and read a cover story (More high school grads certified and ready to work) that discussed the opportunities for high school students to pursue career and technical education opportunities.  The good news is that articles such as this one are no longer isolated examples of how public education has changed in terms of importance and public awareness.  And that is tremendous exposure for all involved in public education in the State of Texas.

It’s certainly possible to access the on-line version of this article (yes, the Star Telegram today is still free to access) by going to www.star-telegram.com, but this exposure is important enough that I wanted to highlight some of the key points made in this article.  One of the comments is that the number of industry licenses in Birdville ISD earned through their technology center increased from 344 in 2009 to 1,890 in the current school year.  And that number will continue to grow as technology evolves. 

In the Hurst-Euless-Bedford district, voters supported a 2011 bond program that included funding for a new Technical Education Academy to replace the former Technical Education Center.  Courses offered will include animation, architecture, automotive technology, engineering and culinary arts.  In Mansfield ISD, students now have an opportunity to choose from 15 different tracks, including EMT certification and food safety and sanitation management.  And the Keller district is weighing a potential opportunity to transform a prior intermediate school into a career and technical education center.

Truly, these represent great opportunities for students!

And these successes are not limited to large school districts such as Birdville, Mansfield and Keller ISD’s.  In a recent conversation that I had with a 2-A district superintendent in central Texas, he highlighted career and technology options now available through partnering with other districts.  Specifically, a neighboring district offered the opportunity for students to graduate and immediately be in a position to work in manufacturing jobs.  So what’s critical here is that the CATE options can be delivered either directly by the district or through partnerships with other districts or local businesses.  All great options, all focused on student achievement and opportunity!

So going back to an earlier blog and paraphrasing somewhat, “How are you doing?”  House Bill 5 was absolutely passed to address many shortcomings of the prior 4X4 system that provided limited flexibility for as many as 30-40% of the students in Texas whose interests do not align with that curriculum.  It’s now up to individual districts and boards of trustees to make decisions that positively impact the students in their districts.  It’s not just an opportunity; it’s a requirement that we, as trustees, have in working with students, parents, businesses, and the communities at large.  As I’ve said before, the students in your district deserve nothing less!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

“Are We There Yet?” – A Story of One Journey

Are we there yet?  At some point in our lives, every one of us has either posed the question to someone else, or had this question posed to us.  So how did we typically answer the question if one of our children asked us?  Well, we might have said, “We’re almost there” (hoping to buy time), or “If you ask me that again, …” (not certain what we hope to achieve with that one), or my personal favorite from a co-worker of mine.  When his child asked if they were almost to Grandma’s house, his response was, “Yes, we are, but Grandma has a really long driveway.”

Since we have been writing about the ramifications of House Bill 5, it’s fair to ask, “are we there yet?”  In some cases, trustees tell us that they are pleased with the progress being made; others are uncertain about where “there” even is.  It’s been our hope, therefore, that posting this blog helps define “there”.  As trustees, most of us have now had the opportunity to discuss, debate and perhaps even curse the requirements imposed by HB 5 relating to Curriculum and Community and Student Engagement.

But I’d like to share with you the journey of how one district achieved far more than what they thought they would be able to do.  I recently had the opportunity to talk with the superintendent of a 2-A district in Central Texas.  When I first spoke with him three months ago, my intent was to gain insights into how a district of his size would address the Curriculum mandates relating to offering endorsements to students in his district.  Candidly, he had doubts during our initial discussion about whether they would be able to offer any endorsement other than the state-mandated Multidisciplinary endorsement.  Oh, how times have changed!

In my recent conversation with him, I could hear the excitement and enthusiasm in his voice as he told me that, as a result of "collaborative partnerships" (his words) with businesses and neighboring districts, it now looked like his district would be able to offer all five of the endorsements defined under HB 5.  And what is even more impressive is the manner in how the district approached the reporting of metrics and criteria.  In fact, while HB 5 defined the eight areas to be evaluated, his district felt it important to add a ninth, Safety and Security.  Talk about understanding and responding to the needs of students and community members in his district!

He explained to me how the district was going to be able to move from the originally anticipated single endorsement to likely being able to offer all five.  Quite simply, it was through establishing relationships with neighboring districts that were willing to share programs and resources so that his students could find content relevant to their specific interests.  Working with his board, he also spent time benchmarking against other districts in the county, not to evaluate his district’s performance against theirs, but to draw on the “best of the best”, again to the benefit of his students.

So, if this 2-A district can do it, why can’t we all?  HB 5 contained little in the way of implementation details and requirements, other than the requirement to report campus level ratings by August 8.  Rather than wait for TEA to tell them what to do and how to derive these ratings, this district took it upon themselves to think first about their students and how to make their high school curriculum more relevant.  Not satisfied with the minimum graduation program requirements defined under HB 5, they adopted a local standard requiring 24 credits for graduation.

I am certain that the journey undertaken by districts across the state has resulted in similar success stories, and my hat is off to those who have viewed HB 5 as the opportunity that it is.  And while we may not yet be to Grandma’s house, this story is about our journey, not the destination.  We are certainly a long way up the driveway!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

House Bill 5, Toyota, and the Mayor of Dallas

So what do the three of these have in common?  Community engagement lies at the core of this trifecta, some positive, some not so much.  Most are aware that the Mayor of Dallas has proposed that Dallas ISD become a home rule district, an action that would remove the board of trustees and change the manner in which DISD is governed.  Thankfully, this has met with strong opposition from a wide array of groups but that is not the premise of this blog.

Unfortunately, the Mayor has continued his public criticism of DISD by suggesting that part of Toyota’s decision to relocate their US headquarters from Torrance, CA to Plano, TX was based on concerns about the quality of education provided by DISD.  Toyota certainly weighed a number of factors when making a decision to relocate their headquarters and to bring 4000 jobs to the Metroplex; quality of education no doubt was one of them.  But for the Mayor to single out DISD is patently unfair to the staff and students of DISD.  Like any district, DISD has issues but it is unfair to blame Toyota’s decision on DISD.  Perhaps the Mayor would be better served by engaging the district in discussions about how to address what he perceives to be weaknesses in DISD.

And that’s where the reference to HB 5 comes in.  Under the Community and Student Engagement part of HB 5, communities and districts are required to work closely with each other to set metrics for performance in a number of areas, and to then define corrective action plans where those metrics are not being attained.  To suggest that “fostering economic development” is one of those attributes is not within the scope of HB 5.  However, as a whole, focusing on the eight attributes defined in HB 5 will help tell the story of performance in a district and how it is working to improve, putting all parties in a better position to leverage those successes to the benefit of the entire community.  Dallas ISD is no different than the rest of our districts in that regard and, given cooperation between public officials and the district, stands a far better chance of addressing shortcomings than continually being subjected to criticism by the Mayor.

This, to me, seems to be a golden opportunity for the City administration and the District administration to sit down and discuss their respective needs.  To succeed, the district needs the support of the Mayor and the citizens of Dallas in defining not just what the State requires relative to public education, but what the Mayor and City want to see from the District.  There are no winners when it comes to the Mayor’s continued criticism of DISD; it’s time for all parties to embrace the spirit of House Bill 5 and to come together to address the challenges and opportunities in educating DISD students.  These students deserve the opportunity to succeed; a more cooperative effort will help them do so.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

HB 5 – Community and Student Engagement - The Process Defined

As we continue to move toward an August 8 reporting date for Community and Student Engagement, I wanted to pause and reflect on the process and progress we have made in our district.  This has been a significant undertaking to get to where we are today, a process involving a district committee, campus leadership and, as you would expect, community members.  Through this process, our district has utilized a number of third party resources, including our Region ESC (Region 11) and input from other districts that had already defined a set of questions to use as part of their evaluation process.

So, with the caveat that this is simply our district's view and approach, let me briefly describe the process that got us to where we are.  Remember … local control gives us the flexibility to define our own approach and how we will satisfy the requirements of HB 5.

We began by identifying an existing committee, our District Advisory Committee (DAC).  We initially shared with committee members the intent and objectives of House Bill 5, and emphasized the importance of completing a self-assessment based on to-be-defined criteria.  As noted above, there are a number of existing resources we identified, including a spreadsheet and set of questions already defined by the Region 11 ESC.  We also gathered sets of questions adopted by other districts in their evaluation process.  From those, we then took the “best of the best” and added to that list questions specific to our district; again, these additional questions were developed by community members, not the district Administration.

Having completed the initial process of developing a set of questions for each of the eight elements, we have now shared that list (four questions per element) with campus leadership and with our site based decision making teams; this effort was initiated the week of April 4.  Our expectation now is that these teams will complete their evaluation efforts and submit to Administration no later than May 8.  After that, Administration will then aggregate the evaluation feedback and share with the DAC in mid-May.  Assuming that the DAC will then approve the evaluations submitted for each campus, we will be in a position to submit our district’s self-evaluation to TEA, complying with both the intent and time frames defined by HB 5.

This also begs the question of the value of this process.  Most districts already have a process in place to gather and evaluate community input; for those districts, this is largely a way of formalizing a process that is then applied consistently across all districts.  For others, i.e., those who do not have a well-defined process, the Community and Student Engagement element of House Bill 5 provides a framework for developing a process and ensuring community involvement.  Either way, this legislation is a reinforcement of the need for districts to solicit input from, and then act upon the wishes of, the community.

Our hope in providing a series of blogs highlighting the Community and Student Engagement element of House Bill 5 is that we have provided a framework to help guide you through the maze of implementation.  The information presented is an outgrowth of a series of presentations by Bobby Rigues, Aledo ISD trustee and the architect of Make Education a Priority, and myself.  Content for these was developed through a series of discussions with a number of different resources, including Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, Chairman of the House Education Committee (and primary sponsor of HB 5), H D Chambers, Superintendent – Alief ISD (who worked closely with Rep. Aycock), representative districts across the State, and TASB Governmental Relations.  We are sincerely grateful for their guidance and support.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Community Engagement Metrics – “How’m I doin’?”

Ed Koch, former mayor of New York City, famously asked “How’m I doin’?”  While we may quiver at the poor grammar structure, the reality is that this is a very real and relevant question for all of us.  It’s getting closer to the time where we, as trustees, have the responsibility to not only pose the question but to make certain that we have a response from our communities, and to report our performance ratings to TEA; ratings are due August 8 of each year.  Regardless of how you choose to address the opportunity to enlist the support of your community, there is relatively little time to form the committee, define the metrics and then evaluate by campus and the district overall how well you’re “doin'”.

So in the absence of any specific guidance on how to approach this task, what are you doing within your district?  Perhaps the best resource for you to call on is your Region Education Service Center.  As mentioned previously, most have either defined a tool that you can use, or have at least provided guidelines on the types of questions to ask surrounding each of the eight measured areas.  There is no predefined guideline for how many criteria need to be evaluated for each of the eight, but you certainly want something that gives you a community perspective of what is important to them.  Of course, you need to be a part of the discussion.  Remember that there is also a compliance question, kind of a “pass/fail” on how well you followed the spirit and intent of HB5.

In the April 4 edition of the Legislative Report provided by TASB Governmental Relations, Dax Gonzalez included the following update.  By the way, if you are not already an SBAN (School Board Advisory Network) subscriber, you should be!  Send a request to Dax at dax.gonzalez@tasb.org or visit gr.tasb.org.

TEA Posts HB 5 Community Engagement Rule

TEA has posted a proposed rule regarding the community and student engagement accountability portion of House Bill 5. The proposed rule would establish procedures for each school district to report performance ratings that the district has assigned to itself and to each of its campuses for the new community and student engagement indicators. The official comment period began April 4 and ends May 5, 2014. Any comments must be submitted to TEA at rules@tea.state.tx.us.

What does this mean to you?  Our sense is that the TEA action is somewhat in response to questions districts have had about how to go about reporting performance ratings.  But because this is not specifically defined, you still have the latitude to exercise discretion in how you approach this efforts; remember, it’s all about local control and your ability (and willingness) to use it wisely.

Monday, March 31, 2014

HB 5 - How Are We Doing? A Conversation with Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock

The House Public Education Committee began its hearings on the progress of implementing HB 5 on March 26.  Bobby Rigues (Aledo ISD), Rick Lambert (Garland ISD) and I took the opportunity to attend the hearing, and we were privileged to have an opportunity to interview Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, chairman of the House Public Education Committee, to get his personal perspectives on progress being made and the challenges that remain.

Specifically, we wanted to understand his views on Community and Student Engagement, how well we’re doing and the value of this effort.  Chairman Aycock shared with us his belief that it seems to be working and he cited testimony before his committee as evidence of this.  He reiterated his belief regarding the importance of communities engaging in the discussions about their student’s education.

At the same time, the Chairman acknowledged what he sees as some of the challenges surrounding implementation, including resources for counselors and other staff members, and indicating that funding will be the responsibility of the legislature and the local communities.  He also mentioned the challenge of getting students and staff in place at the right spot and the right time since all of this is “coming at them pretty quickly”.

In a prior blog, we identified the fact that HB 5 addresses three primary elements, curriculum, assessment and accountability.  When we first spoke with him late last year, Chairman Aycock indicated that it was critical that all three of these be coupled together and that each could not stand on their own.  In last week’s discussion, he reaffirmed that these must be looked at as a whole, not just looking at one test on one day.  In short, it is but one element of understanding how well public education is doing.  But he also acknowledged that finding measurable attributes for community and student engagement has been a challenge.

We talked with the Chairman about partnerships and he expressed that it is imperative that districts develop partnerships not just with higher education, but also with employers, and developing an understanding of the needs of the local communities we serve.  It is his hope that local boards will reach out to their community to better understand the workforce requirements and to form partnerships that fulfill the requirements of these jobs.

In closing, Chairman Aycock expressed to Bobby, Rick and me the importance of engaging with the community to develop partnerships with parents, educators, industry and students.  It’s critical that school board members step up to communicate the importance of aligning community and business requirements with the capabilities offered by the districts.

We thank Chairman Aycock for taking time from his committee hearing to meet with us and to share his perspectives on the progress being made in implementing House Bill 5, legislation that he sponsored and championed as it was passed and ultimately signed into law by the Governor.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Community Engagement Efforts - How to Track and Report

In a previous blog, we outlined the areas for which districts have a responsibility to report results.  To recap, these include:
  • Fine arts
  • Wellness and physical education
  • Community and parental involvement
  • 21st Century Workforce Development program
  • Second language acquisition program
  • Digital learning environment
  • Dropout prevention strategies
  • Educational programs for gifted and talented students
The ratings for these eight elements must be submitted by August 8 of each year, effective this year.  So there is little time to decide how your district is going to proceed.  The first decision relates to forming the committee that will be tasked with defining the key metrics for each area.  Will you set up a separate committee, or will you use the resources of an existing committee such as your district advisory committee?  The reality is that most districts will find it necessary (and appropriate) to use an existing committee or subset of an existing committee.
So once you name the members of the committee, what next?  The committee should meet with the administration (with board involvement) to begin to define what metrics are most import to committee members and to the community for each of the above.  There are no guidelines on how many metrics should be defined for each element, but don’t make it so onerous that you cannot adequately evaluate the key measurements.
Probably the best resources for defining potential metrics come from:
  • Trustees in other districts;
  • Your Education Service Center; or
  • TASB
TASB (and we assume most education service centers) has developed a spreadsheet for tracking results; the key metrics are likely already defined and the process is as simple as entering results into a spreadsheet, yielding ratings by campus and for the district.  You can certainly choose to go it alone, but there simply may not be enough time between now and August 8.  So why not tap the resources that have already done extensive work, and defined their perspectives on how to address the obligations and opportunities created by HB 5.
We welcome input from trustees around the state on what worked well for you.  What were some of the key metrics you have adopted?  How did you form a committee and how did you set the criteria for each element?  And what did you use for a tool to compile and ultimately report your results?  Remember, local control gives you the latitude, and creates the obligation, to act in a manner most appropriate for your district.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

HB 5 and Community Engagement - What Next?

We have talked at length about the requirements under House Bill 5 relating to Curriculum.  Given the fact that there is a deadline associated with the Community and Student Engagement part of the legislation, we decided to refocus our message on that topic.  We will get back to discussions surrounding both Curriculum and Assessment in the near term.

So what are the requirements relating to Community and Student Engagement?  While a small part of the text in the bill (only about 2 pages of a 111 page bill), this area represents both a significant requirement and a responsibility to engage all stakeholders, including business partners and students. 

But part of the challenge is that HB 5 does not provide a prescriptive “how to” relating to actions that you as trustees must take in this area.  The text of the bill relating to community and student engagement can be found at:

Specifically, the key points included in a new Section 39.0545 of the Texas Education Code include:
-          - School districts must evaluate the performance of each campus as well as the District.
-          - Based on this assessment, the District must assign a rating of exemplary, recognized, acceptable or not acceptable to each campus.
-          - The rating reflects overall performance as well as performance for individual factors, including:
o   Fine arts
o   Wellness and physical education
o   Community and parental involvement
o   21st Century Workforce Development program
o   Second language acquisition program
o   Digital learning environment
o   Dropout prevention strategies
o   Educational programs for gifted and talented students
-          - The ratings must be submitted by August 8 each year, effective August 8, 2014.
-          - In addition, each District must report on compliance with the statutory reporting requirements.

Further, Section 46 of HB 5 establishes a requirement that the criteria for evaluating the performance against each of the above factors is to be defined by a local committee … not TEA, not the SBOE (italics added by the author). 

But that’s it!  Nothing further defined.  And that’s what local control is all about.  So, if you have not already moved forward with designating a committee to analyze and provide this input for your District, the time to act is NOW!  You may choose to create a new committee or appoint existing committee members to undertake this effort.  It is up to you.

Over the past couple of months, we have had discussions with superintendents and with region service centers in an effort to better understand how to report this information.  Not surprisingly, there is no consensus.  You may want to contact your local ESC to see if they have developed a template for inputting the factors and evaluation for each.  For example, we know that Region XI has developed a template that is being used by many districts in our region.  But you are not bound to use what they can offer; again, local control suggests that this is a decision you make.

With the August 8 deadline, there is little time for delay.  Talk with fellow trustees in other districts; talk with your ESC.  But, most importantly, start the dialog now.  Your community and your students deserve a highly focused effort to comply with Section 46 of HB 5; it’s up to us to meet their expectations!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

But My District Cannot Afford To Offer More Than The Multidisciplinary Endorsement! (Part 2)

In Part One, we shared a perspective and belief that, while many districts believe that they can only offer the Multidisciplinary endorsement initially, there are ways to address this in a manner that may yield opportunities to offer additional endorsements. 

Allow me to offer an editorial comment here.  Having just returned from the TASB-sponsored Winter Governance training, we are encouraged by the progress that many districts are making in considering how they can go about expanding the opportunities, i.e., endorsements, for their students.  As with any new opportunity, there were some who saw the requirements of HB 5 as being more of an impediment than an opportunity.  Remember, the introduction of the concept of endorsements is not intended to place a burden on districts.  It is, like all else contained in this 111 page landmark legislation, designed to focus on ensuring student success.

So where do we begin?  Regardless of a District’s size, this is fundamentally a shift from the way that we have always looked at curriculum design, giving greater flexibility and local control to districts to define those endorsements best suited to the needs of their students, their district, and the community at large.

The starting point is clearly a review of existing courses and curriculum in the District.  Are the requirements of each endorsement unique, or is the issue one of repackaging courses and programs already offered? Once you have conducted an initial assessment of your offerings, try to group them under the endorsements.  Be open minded and objective as you go through this process.  While you may not find an exact match for all courses, we believe strongly that there will be a close alignment in many cases that will yield positive results for you.

At the same time, there will be gaps in the ability to provide courses to fulfill a particular endorsement.  And that is where opportunity again presents itself.  Identify and seek out relationships with neighboring districts who have the ability to offer courses you may not.  Work with them to establish an ability for your students to participate in courses they offer, whether remotely or in person.  For example, a superintendent in a 2A district outside of Waco told us of his plans to partner with two districts in the Waco area to offer additional career and technology options to the students in his district.

Or consider partnering with a local college or university to deliver the courses required to fill out an endorsement.  Another central Texas district intends to partner with Temple College to provide certain of the Arts & Humanities required courses.  Yet another district is working with the local business community to understand their local staffing needs, and to cooperatively develop and deliver certain courses that meet these companies' needs.  And, finally, we learned of a business/district partnership where the company will actually host and teach courses, with the expense borne by the business partner.

There truly are a myriad of ways for districts to increase the endorsement offerings for their students.  More than anything, what it requires is a desire to do so and a creative (and open minded) approach to developing partnerships that benefit both the partner and the district.

Remember, HB offered encouragement to districts to strive to EXCEED the minimum statutory requirements of law.  It falls squarely on the shoulders of the administration and Board of Trustees to ensure that students are afforded the greatest opportunity to succeed.  Endorsements represent that opportunity!   

Sunday, February 23, 2014

But My District Cannot Afford To Offer More Than The Multidisciplinary Endorsement!

Now that House Bill 5 has defined the five endorsements that a district can offer, we all face the challenge of how to best do so.  The feeling, and sometimes the argument, by the boards and administration of many districts is that they can offer only the multidisciplinary endorsement.  So how do they (and we) address this concern?  How do we strive to exceed the minimum requirements to best drive student success?

It is clear that there is no consensus on how to approach the analysis and determination of the endorsements that an individual district can offer.  And that is a fundamental change from how we have approached curriculum development in the past.  Over the past several years, the State Board of Education has told us what we need to offer (i.e., the 4X4 curriculum) without any regard for the needs of the students in our communities or the workforce demands in our communities.  We were simply told that we must offer the 4X4!

Under HB 5, we now have the flexibility at a local level to determine what is best for our student population.  In conversations with superintendents and board members across the state, there is a significant divergence of opinion on how to approach the challenge.  Of course, the smaller the district, the greater the challenge.  Or is it?

Boards and district administration must weigh a number of factors when making a determination on which endorsements to offer the students in their districts.  They must look at the courses required to fill out an endorsement, and they must assess the staffing implications associated with delivery of new courses; in many cases, this brings about a certification challenge for our teaching staffs.  Depending on the endorsement and the specific course(s), there may be technology needs that need to be met before a particular course can be offered.  And there may be facility issues associated with the new course offerings.

In Part 2 of the discussion on considerations that will perhaps lead a district to offer multiple endorsements, especially smaller districts, we will share with you some of the ideas, and more importantly the actions, being developed by superintendents  These range from simply conducting a curriculum review and slotting specific courses under a particular endorsement, to developing partnerships with neighboring districts and institutions of higher education, to building cooperative relationships with local businesses.  Clearly, we will be faced with challenges on how to address these requirements.  But the reality of HB 5 is that we each have an opportunity to weigh in on how best to do so.

Join us in Part 2 as we discuss these varied ideas and approaches., and let us know how you are approaching the challenges of HB 5.  We would love to hear from you and to share what you have learned works well in your district.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Advocay and HB 5 - How Important Is It?

By now, you should start to get a feel for the game changing elements of House Bill 5.  Whether changing graduation requirements and creating five new endorsement opportunities for incoming 9th graders in school year 2014-2015, or reducing the number of EOC exams for high school students, or requiring that local boards establish formal community and student engagement efforts, HB 5 has altered the public education landscape in Texas.  And while a large part of the credit goes to a group of superintendents led by Mr. H. D. Chambers of Alief ISD and the tireless efforts of the House Public Education committee, chaired by Rep. Jimmy Don Aycock, the reality is that advocacy on the part of trustees has had an enormous impact on decisions made in Austin.

According to Rep. Aycock, "The legislative intent of HB 5 was borne out of campaigns, and ruminated not just through this (83rd) session, but prior sessions as well."  So while school finance has often dominated the discussions about public education, in part due to the trial in Judge Dietz's courtroom, trustees across the state have been working with their local legislators to convey concerns they had about the loss of local control, and the often unfunded mandates imposed upon them by the State Board of Education and the legislature. 

There has been considerable debate surrounding how we maintain a system of flexibility, rigor and relevance, while striving to address the needs and interests of the more than 5 million Texas public education students.  Make no mistake about it --- as trustees, you have the responsibility to ensure that the changes brought about under HB 5 do not "water down" the rigor or relevance of what you do in your district.  And I fully expect that the vast majority of trustees understand that with increased local control comes accountability to do so for all stakeholders, including students, parents, staff, and the community at large. 

So while HB 5 does grant increased local control and flexibility to boards, it does not diminish the obligation of all of us to continue to advocate for our students.  Without question, there will be areas of HB 5 that don't accomplish what they were intended to.  As trustees, you must be willing to communicate your concerns to your representatives; no one else will do it for you.  Where things are working well, let them know that as well ... they do like hearing good news!  And they do want to hear from you!

We have achieved some of what we have sought for years with increased local control and flexibility.  It's up to us now to make certain that we act in a manner consistent with the intent of HB 5, and that we use this newly granted authority to make responsible decisions that favorably impact student success.  And that's why we serve.  The greatest risk is doing nothing!

Monday, February 17, 2014

So How Did House Bill 5 Become a Reality?

So How Did House Bill 5 Become a Reality?

So now that we have started to look at some of the requirements of House Bill 5, let's step back and understand how this legislation evolved.  It's a great story of engagement and advocacy at multiple levels across the State of Texas.

When a group of superintendents led by H.D. Chambers, superintendent of Alief ISD, developed a white paper expressing concerns about what they saw as shortcomings in the legislature-mandated “4X4” curriculum, that document noted that there are perhaps as many as 30% of Texas high school students who will not plan to attend college for a variety of reasons.  The belief of this group of superintendents was that the 4X4 was a “one size fits all” approach and, in fact, may be a contributing factor to the overall dropout rate.

In a conversation with Mr. Chambers, he acknowledged that providing 5 million students with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in life would be easy ... if they were all the same!  Given the fact that they are not the same, he and his peers saw a need to rethink the notion of college readiness, suggesting that local districts required greater flexibility and local control than they then had.  Recognizing that student needs and desires were constantly evolving, and that the 4X4 offered a limited perspective relating to career and technology courses, he saw an opportunity to address this changing environment. 

Mr. Chambers and others set out to change the way that public education is delivered in the State of Texas.  Among those he approached was Rep. Jimmy Don Aycock, chairman of the House Education Committee.  Through a series of discussions, Mr. Chambers and Rep. Aycock were able to settle on a set of considerations and criteria that ultimately formed the framework for House Bill 5.  Rep. Aycock was the primary sponsor of this important piece of legislation.

As a former school board trustee, Rep. Aycock was very interested in taking action to return control to local boards.  He also acknowledged the role that local trustee advocacy has played in considering the options.  Quoting Rep. Aycock, “The legislative intent of HB 5 was borne out of campaigns, and ruminated not just through this session, but prior sessions as well”.  What that suggests is that the advocacy efforts of trustees across the state are being heard.  For that, all of us should be proud!

While recognizing the need for local control, Rep. Aycock also expressed concerns that the State of Texas had placed too much emphasis on testing, and that there is a need for more vocational opportunities, as well as greater flexibility at the local level.  He, too, shared a belief that communities and students needed to be more involved in defining how programs and curriculum are delivered at the local level, and defined a need to more closely engage community and business partners in understanding the workforce demands in local communities.

It was with this as a backdrop that Rep. Aycock sponsored House Bill 5, legislation that was signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry on June 10, 2013.  This is landmark legislation for public education students, and a great opportunity for trustees to demonstrate their ability to not only understand the needs of their local districts, but to act responsibly in ensuring that locally developed curriculum meets the needs of the greatest number of students.

The greatest risk now lies in doing nothing, leaving the door open for the legislature to act where local boards do not.  Act now and act responsibly!  Your students are counting on you to succeed.