Boise's highly effective board habits
THIS ARTICLE IS PART OF OUR YEAR-LONG SERIES CALLED INSPIRE IDAHO, WHICH SPOTLIGHTS SCHOOLS DOING SOMETHING DIFFERENTLY FOR A BETTER OUTCOME FOR STUDENTS.
BOISE — The Boise School District's Board of Trustees was forced to cut the budget in 2004 and that included cutting staff.
Nancy Gregory cast the lone dissenting vote because she wanted to save the gifted and talented supervisor role. She believed it was best for students.
Gregory's rookie instincts were right — do what's best for kids.
But after serving 16 years on the board, she knows all too well that doing what's best for kids while balancing budgets and the needs of adults is the board's biggest challenge.
Student achievement is impacted by many facets of school governance.
— Nancy Gregory, the board's president
Trustees with the Boise School District ask themselves every day/meeting if they are doing what's best for kids. They may not always be able to comply, but with that question at the core, the district has evolved to be one of the most successful in Idaho. Boise students regularly top the charts in graduation rates, test scores and attendance.
The habits of a highly successful board
The Boise school board attributes its success to diversity, working with stakeholders, training and setting a vision and goals that are focused on student achievement.
Trustees primary responsibilities are to:
- Set the vision and goals for the district.
- Hire and evaluate the superintendent.
- Adopt and oversee the annual budget.
- Set policies that give the district direction to set priorities and achieve its goals.
They don’t manage the school district, mandate how things happen below the superintendent level or evaluate and hire teachers.
"It's an interesting role of oversight while not stepping into a management role."
— Trustee Maria Greeley
Diversity is a strength of the board
The board is made up of seven trustees: Gregory, A. J. Balukoff, Maria Greeley, Beth Oppenheimer, Doug Park, Troy Rohn and Dave Wagers.
Each contributes their own unique talents as business owners, educators, parents and advocates.
"Having trustees from different backgrounds allows the board to call upon the strengths and perspectives of many to help in decision making and oversight," Gregory said.
Getting along with teachers
To accomplish top student achievement, trustees work with superintendent Don Coberly and the Boise Education Association (BEA) to negotiate a compromise that needs to work for kids, teachers and taxpayers.
“No one likes surprises,” Oppenheimer said.“Our relationships are very strong and we challenge each other in positive ways. We have healthy conversations, which is the culture of our board.”
BEA employees meet regularly with trustees and district administration to keep on-going communication and transparency.
“Sometimes we have to agree to disagree, but together we can do more,” said Kathy Yamamoto, the director of the BEA. “We don’t hide anything and this builds a healthy relationship.”
Training is a top priority
Trustees take part in workshops with the Idaho School Board Association, National School Board Association and district training.
“A good functioning board participates in trainings to improve,” Gregory said.
Through training, the board has learned governance, the role of leadership, strategic plan and assessment and accountability.
“It’s as simple as learning to set an agenda and knowing the laws,” Greeley said.
With changing laws, training is a continual topic of discussion for the board to make sure everyone is on the same page of understanding.
"Every trustee needs to feel comfortable with what is going on during meetings," Gregory said.
Sustaining a vision and goals
The board sets the vision and goals for the school district, and holds the district administration accountable for results. Trustees review the strategic plan at least twice a year.
The review includes discussion on measuring success and if goals needs to be updated. The purpose of the strategic plan is to guide the district's direction to achievement of the mission, vision and core values.
The district mission that is set by trustees is: Graduate each student prepared for college, career and citizenship.
- Quality teaching and learning
- Educational opportunity
- Hiring, retaining and training the best staff
- School environment and safety
- Community relations and communications
This ties in with evaluating superintendent Coberly. Trustees use an evaluation tool that covers staff management, continuous improvement, personal modeling of district values, governance, curriculum and educational leadership.
The procedure is based off evidence presented during school board meetings. The board sets goals for Coberly and trustees meet at least three times a year with him before the formal evaluation in May.
"The evaluation process is effective," Coberly said. "It works well because its ongoing."
Gregory is proud of what the board has achieved during her 16 years. She has seen the district go through growth, technology changes in the classroom, an improved graduation rate, creation of a refugee program and watched voters approve a $172.5 million bond all while managing one of the largest school district budgets in the state.
“It’s about investing in the community,” Gregory said.