Saturday, August 29, 2015

Mt. Daniel, Technology Audits, STEAM, and Advisory Committees – the August 25 School Board Meeting

I apologize for the delay in getting out a recap of the August 25 School Board meeting.  I wasn’t able to attend in person, and complied this summary from review of the meeting after it took place.  As always, my summary does not reflect everything that was discussed, but includes things I hope you find useful to know.

Many of you are interested in the Mt. Daniel construction and its timing. The current schools’ Mission, Vision and Strategies  excerpt from the Triennial Plan, and the Staff Work Plan, continue to call for completion of Mt. Daniel construction in Oct. 2016.  However, in the Aug. 25 meeting Dr. Jones noted that this depends on obtaining approval from Fairfax County on Sept. 17, and then timely issuance of permits, both of which are far from certain it seems to me.  Dr. Jones said she would update the Board at the next meeting about progress.  Also, the Parents’ Night for Mt. Daniel isn’t until October this year, so Dr. Jones plans to update the parents then.  There wasn’t any discussion of the likelihood of approval of the construction by Fairfax County, or Plan B if approval cannot be obtained.

I reported to everyone earlier that at a recent meeting the School Board had expressed desire for an independent audit of technology in the schools.  The school administration pushed back on this on Aug. 25, including language about an audit in the Staff Work Plan but only to the effect that the audit be “consider[ed]” by June 2016 “as deemed appropriate after review.”  That sure sounds like a fancy way of saying “we are not going to do this” to me.  The objections seem to be cost and lack of clear scope for the audit – that said, one Board member indicated that an audit is a priority, and that the scope should be broad and include technology infrastructure and security (hooray!).  In my opinion, this is a significant priority to ensure that the school system understands the risks and that resources (people and money) are being directed to the most important risks. 

No action was taken by the Board on either the Mission/Vision/Strategies document or the Staff Work Plan.  The proposed revisions will be presented for vote at the next meeting.

The meeting began with a discussion of the STEAM action strategies for each school; however, I can only mention what Jessie Thackrey and Mt. Daniel said because only part of the session was recorded  (I would have loved to attend the tour of the GM Makerspace that took place at the meeting – pictures are on the School Board website).  Jessie Thackrey talked about adding science and math to report cards, building the Mt. Daniel outdoor classroom, and integrating arts and early literacy.  Mt. Daniel also talked about the progress it had made even though it lacks a STEAM classroom.  It discussed the outdoor classroom, continuing curriculum enhancements, learning from other programs, and volunteer support such as from George Mason technology students.  The degree of volunteer assistance in just these two programs was clear and impressive, from Eagle Scouts to parents, along with teacher and staff efforts.  The Board was given a copy of the May draft STEAM report, which is here:$file/2015FCCPSSTEAMReport.pdf

The largest part of the meeting concerned the revision of a number of Board policies, with the lion’s share being devoted to the review of the policy on advisory committees (5.12).  A key part of the discussion concerned a letter from two School Board Candidates – Alison Kutchma and Becky Smerdon – who raised objections to the proposed changes and asked that they not be approved.  Their objections related to restrictions on the independence of advisory committees.$file/Dear%20School%20Board%20Members%20Policy%205.12.pdf.  The view of the Board was that advisory committees are not independent, but rather advise the Board on matters assigned to the committee by the Board, and that the law prohibits advisory committees from undertaking certain activities including any involving the access to personal information.  The Board approved the policy with a few changes. 

On the question of independence, I haven’t yet dug into the Virginia Laws concerning advisory committees and their operation, but it seems to me that citizen concerns about a committee’s “independence” are part of the greater issue of transparency and participation.  People want independence for parent and stakeholder groups because they don’t feel they are being heard by the School Administration, and to a lesser extent the Board, and therefore want an independent voice that must be heard.  It seems to me that even greater efforts regarding transparency and participation must be made, regardless of what policy 5.12 says.

There was also a discussion about using this policy to limit the recording of advisory committee meetings, but with input from legal counsel the Board did not impose new restrictions on recording, which I think is a wise decision. 

In addition, there were a couple of things in the advisory committee policy that concern me.  First, it appears that all the committees advise and/or aid the Board or the Board and Superintendent, except the Special Education Advisory Committee, which advises the Board “through the Superintendent.”  [Note, the ESOL committee has one similar advisory role through the Superintendent, but also advises the Board directly.]  Second as the Kutchma/Smerdon letter points out, advisory committee members are asked to sign the School Board Code of Civility.  I am a big supporter of civility, but one part of that code provides that the signer will work “to delegate authority for the administration of schools to the superintendent.”  Of course the Superintendent administers the schools, but why is that an issue of civility?  And why doesn’t that provision say, if it is going to say anything, that the Board should “take care that [the public schools] are conducted according to law and with the utmost efficiency,” which is a duty of the School Board required by law?  These provisions ought to be changed.

Finally, the Board reviewed draft priorities to be provided each advisory committee, which will be submitted to the committee chairs and co-chairs for comment, with possible adoption at the next meeting.

As always, please let me know any questions or comments.

No comments:

Post a Comment