Friday, September 21, 2012

Career and Technical Education

Since the mid-1990’s the Board of Regents has been wrestling with the question of how to assess and give credit for career and technical education courses.  They have struggled with how to ensure that different assessments for different fields can represent equal accomplishments.  Entire generations of children are passing through our schools while the Regents try to decide what and how a high school diploma should signal about a student who has pursued vocational studies.    

Yet despite the Regents’ difficulty, in schools across the state, career and technical education is an important part of the curriculum.  Our Monroe School Boards Association County book, The Best for Less, which can be read or downloaded at our website at , tells about the many types of career and technical education programs in our districts. 

Collaboration across district lines has allowed districts to offer a wide variety of vocational and technical education opportunities. Students from all county school districts participate in these programs offered through the two local BOCES and the Rochester City District partnerships with many area businesses.

Career and Technical Courses         
High school students can select courses in business, construction, technology, health services, and trades (mechanical, technical, industrial). They learn theory, practice skills, and receive school-to-work counseling.

School- to-Career Internships                      
High school juniors and seniors can participate in up to 150 hours of on-the-job work experiences with mentors to study career options not offered at BOCES or their home schools.

Technical Awareness Modules help freshmen and sophomores explore technical career options before committing to extensive study in any one area.

Delving into all that is offered shows students preparing for a wide variety of essential trades.  There will be more on the breadth and depth of the programs in another entry.  

Saturday, September 8, 2012

What school boards do – Part 2

What I did on my summer vacation (Why board retreats are important)

By Sherry Johnson

I am always a little surprised when a community member asks me how my summer vacation “from board meetings” is going.  Many people don’t understand that school governance happens all year long and most boards meet all year to support that role.

In July, Boards of Education have their re-organization meeting where they make important decisions about banks, attorneys and appointments for district personnel to transition the school district into their new year.  At that meeting newly and re-elected board members take their oath of office.

During the summer, boards are able get detailed updates on student performance and other measurements of their district’s progress.  They use this time to develop goals for the coming year.  It is also during this summer time frame that school boards may choose to have a retreat.

Boards of Education have retreats for a number of reasons and many are the same reasons one would go on a faith, marriage or self-introspection retreat.  Boards are made up of 5, 7, or 9 individual members, all elected by their communities to represent them at the table of school leadership.  That role is multi-faceted, extremely complex and ever evolving.  To know it well and to keep up with the demands takes more than comprehending information from a meeting packet and coming to the meeting with a decision in mind.  Working with other members who have different backgrounds, different approaches to problem solving, and different priorities can stress the relationship that members have with each other and their superintendent.  New board members change whatever dynamic previously existed within that structure.  Retreats allow for everyone to come together outside of regular business meetings and develop into an effective leadership team. 

Many boards hire outside consultants to help with specific issues, including relationship issues.  Others will use local or district folks who are trained in a particular topic that the board would like addressed.  This year we asked the MCSBA Executive Director, Jody Siegle to come and speak to us about the importance of advocacy and what we can expect this fall both legislatively and from the State Education Department.  For our own self-reflection, we asked a local school attorney, himself a former board member with many years experience, to help us become a more cohesive team.  He had us take a survey to identify what our individual expectations were and where we thought things could improve.  He used the results of that survey along with a team building exercise to guide us through the process.  In the end, as a board, we had a heightened awareness of all we had accomplished together during the course of the year together and we felt confident that we could continue to work even more effectively to help the district achieve the goals we defined for the coming year.

Self-reflection for Boards of Educations should not be overlooked or taken lightly.  Board members are only effective when they work as partners; it takes effort to keep a team highly functional. 

As the new school year begins, just like a fresh box of crayons and a clean pad of paper, hope springs inspired by the possibilities of what could be for our students, our schools and our communities.  Effective Board leadership can make those possibilities real but success will require each person to accept his or her responsibility as a member of a leadership team working together to meet the many challenges that school governance requires of them.

What school boards do – Part 1

This is a time of change in public education, and the responsibility to deal with this change falls directly on local boards of education.  Seeing that each district complies with new laws and meets the community’s expectations for its schools is the job of the school board, the most grass-roots level of government.

Here in New York State there are 697 school districts, and all but three are overseen by non-partisan elected boards of local citizens who serve without pay. School board members are elected as individuals by their communities, but all decision-making is done as a corporate body.  As trustees, board members have great authority; as individuals, they have none.

These volunteers model an impressive commitment to their communities’ well being.  Most school board members say they are motivated by a desire to give back to their communities.  By the time school board members attend board meetings, visit schools, attend programs in their district’s schools, attend training programs, and complete the required reading of materials, reports, and background information, they typically spend a minimum of 500 hours each year on their board responsibilities.  Many board members, especially board officers, spend much more than that, well over 1000 hours. 

What occupies all those hours?  What follows is a brief description of the legal responsibilities of school boards here in New York State.  Complying with all the new laws and how boards function will be covered in future blog entries. 

Legal obligations of school boards:
The school board is the chief legal entity of the district.  The board can enter into legal contracts on behalf of the district.  The board can sue and be sued.  Each newly elected or reelected board member takes an oath of office that they will comply with all legal obligations that apply to the district. Public education is governed by Education Law as well as Labor Law, General Municipal Law, Real Property Tax Law, Local Finance Law, Public Officers Law, decisions of the Commissioner of Education, and federal law.

School boards have the authority and the obligation to adopt policies for their districts, many of which are required by state and federal law.  School boards are primarily policy- making bodies.  Well thought out policies make a district work well by providing the guidance the staff needs for many situations.  School boards develop policies for the admission, instruction, discipline, grading, and, when appropriate, the classification of students. School boards also must adopt a Code of Conduct for the district and ensure that it is disseminated annually through the district.  Additional policies specify many other aspects of district operations.

The school board must hire a superintendent.  Hiring a capable superintendent is one of the board’s most important duties.  The superintendent will take the board’s policies and then will use them to manage the everyday operation of the district. The superintendent is like the CEO of a district.

School boards receive and then act on superintendent recommendations. Among other things, these include tenure recommendations, negotiated contracts, and the hiring of personnel.

School boards must be responsible stewards of all the district’s assets and property, which constitutes a significant investment of community resources. The school board is responsible for purchasing, leasing, maintaining, and insuring all buildings, properties, equipment, and supplies.

School boards must prepare an operating budget each year and then submit it to the public for a vote to either approve or reject it.  Boards in the Big Five districts submit their budgets to their city councils.

School boards must set annual goals and then monitor progress meeting them.

School boards must comply with the Sunshine Laws that require all board meetings to be held in public where anyone can attend and listen.  With limited exceptions, all school board discussions about making decisions and the decisions themselves must be made in public.  Strict executive session rules limit private discussions to certain personnel matters, issues concerning specific students, and real estate and contract negotiations where a public discussion would weaken the board’s ability to obtain a good result. 

School boards act as judges at the final level of local appeals in complaints against the district. Due process rights for someone with a grievance against the district begins at the building level, moves to the superintendent, and finally goes to the board.  

In addition, school boards are also authorized to receive and approve charter school applications for schools to be operated within district boundaries and are the only entity that may approve the conversion of one of their existing public schools into a charter school.