June 2012 School Board News

Advocacy update: What NSBA is doing for school boards

NSBA is strengthening its efforts to advocate in Washington, D.C., on behalf of school boards and public education and has launched a new campaign to push Congress to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Creation of NSBAC

NSBA has created the National School Boards Action Center (NSBAC), a 501(c)(4) organization that will coordinate with NSBA to raise its profile and elevate school board advocacy on Capitol Hill.

The Action Center “is being established in recognition of the growing importance of the federal role in education, and the need for local school boards to have a higher profile in Washington,” says Michael A. Resnick, NSBA’s associate executive director for federal advocacy and public policy. “It will build on the strength we already have in Washington.”

The organization, which will be directed by Resnick, has a separate seven-member board of directors, with four members from NSBA’s board and three from state association boards. It will devote more time to lobbying and advocacy than can the current organization, which is designated a 501(c)(3) by the Internal Revenue Service.

NSBAC board members held an initial meeting on April 20 to set up operations.

‘ESEA Now’ campaign

NSBA also is pushing Congress to revamp the 10-year-old No Child Left Behind Act because many aspects of the law are seriously flawed and inflicting significant damage on public schools across the country.

Nearly half of all public schools are now deemed “failing,” and are pushed into sanctions that have had little to no evidence of improving schools or student achievement. While the U.S. Department of Education’s waiver program fixes some of the concerns, it also imposes new requirements on the schools.

At NSBA’s Annual Conference, held April 21-23 in Boston, participants learned about NSBA’s “ESEA Now” campaign and the importance of contacting their representatives in Washington.

NSBA’s advocacy department organized two call-in days, April 18 and May 9, when hundreds of school board members across the country called or e-mailed their members of Congress. Mary Broderick, NSBA’s 2011-12 president, urged attendees to help lobby for a better law.

“The House and Senate education committees have passed bills that are not perfect, but are a good start,” she said. “We’re asking school board members across the country to contact their representatives in Washington and ask them to continue this momentum.”

A special section of NSBA’s website, www.nsba.org/ESEANOW, details the campaign and gives talking points for contacting your representatives.

Learning about advocacy

Each year, NSBA conference attendees also attend sessions to learn about the latest legislative activities from NSBA’s advocacy staff. This year, one of the top issues will be school funding, as several proposals by fiscally conservative Washington lawmakers attempt to dramatically reduce federal spending across all discretionary programs.

“Although ESEA is a top priority for NSBA now, there are other issues on the horizon, including pre-K and teacher effectiveness, that school board members will want to watch,” said Lucy Gettman, NSBA’s director of federal programs.

Other highlights of the conference:

• NSBA’s advocacy staff hosted a session on “Burning Hot Topics on Capitol Hill,” and this year’s topics were funding and new legislation to integrate pre-K into a p-12 continuum.

• A new NSBA Teacher & Principal Effectiveness Legislative Committee met with the U.S. Department of Education’s Teaching Ambassador Fellow to discuss a proposed $5 billion program for teacher effectiveness.

• Representatives from the New Jersey School Boards Association presented the latest developments in the cascade of regulations to implement the child nutrition reauthorization, and how those could impact school districts. One of the top goals is to expand participation in the school breakfast program.

• Patte Barth, director of the Center for Public Education, explained the Common Core standards and how those differ from the current laws.

• NSBA’s advocacy staff also worked with conference attendees at a session called, “Sharpen Your Lobbying Skills: Federal advocacy opportunities at home.” Participants learned about the Congressional calendar and strategies to take advantage of opportunities to meet with their member of Congress when they are at home for constituent work periods. Participants also got an opportunity to role-play a conversation with an elected official.  


What works?

Eat your peas. Get plenty of sleep. Exercise regularly. Go easy on the desserts.

We all know “what works” when it comes to maintaining our health. The key is to find a way to follow all those guidelines amid the pressures -- and temptations -- of our hectic lives.

You might say the same thing about running public schools. What works in public education? Measurable standards, rigorous curriculum, a healthy learning environment ... we could go on and on. The key isn’t just knowing what works, but how to make it work when political pressures are mounting, budgets are shrinking, and school are being asked to provide ever more and better services.

This month, we have two “what works” stories that do just that: They show how innovative school districts made well-accepted innovations -- in this case professional development and school-based health care -- work for them.

Do you have any “how we made it work” stories? We’d like to hear about them -- briefly, in the interest of space. As always, choose a response from those listed below, add your comments, and send your reply to your-turn@asbj.com. We’ll print a bunch of those good ideas in August.

A. We’ve got a great new, pretty much unique idea and here’s how we do it. (Please elaborate, briefly, with all answers.)

B. We haven’t reinvented the wheel, but found a great way to adapt a “best practice” to our needs.

C. As grandma said, we need to “put our thinking caps on.”

D. None of the above.

About the Your Turn survey: These responses represent the views of the ASBJ Reader Panel, a self-selected sample of subscribers, plus other readers who choose to participate by postal mail, e-mail, or online at www.asbj.com. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of American School Board Journal or of its publisher, the National School Boards Association. Join the panel at www.asbj.com/readerpanel.


Cutting costs and becoming more efficient

Thankfully, nobody answered April’s question -- ”Have you found new ways to cut costs?” -- with a resounding “Well, duh!” ASBJ readers are too polite for that. But most of you said that, yes, you have indeed cut costs, while finding new ways to improve efficiency.

Some comments:

• We have cut some positions and moved the job duties to “extra pay” stipends for existing staff. These people, who are the district’s “high energy,” good performers, still get the job done. The district saves money while simultaneously rewarding outstanding employees. -- Paul Vranish, superintendent, Texas

• We changed health insurance companies for our employees. Our employees have to pay 12 percent of the insurance costs. Our employees have to pay half of their retirement to [the Wisconsin Retirement System]. -- Jim Lautenschlaeger, board member, Wisconsin

• We are a 300-square-mile rural district with 1,400 kids. Through a recent building project we were able to consolidate everyone onto one site. The savings through consolidation paid for much of the building project and will continue to provide savings into the future. We are working on a 10-year plan to provide transparency to the community and looking for ways to reach the public to convey the value to the community of providing our students with the skills they will need to be successful in the 21st century. -- Don Swonger, board member, Ohio

• Our district decided that cutting programs would 1) make us like all the other districts (in decline) and 2) cause us to lose enrollment. So we went the other way and found new revenue streams. With Wisconsin’s Open Enrollment law, we found that by being perceived as a district that was spiraling upward -- adding programs, staying on the cutting edge of technology, and leading the way in curriculum initiatives -- we attracted enough students to pay for everything. -- Randal Braun, superintendent, Wisconsin


Can’t they just teach?

A long-held notion about public school educators is that, while they are delivering quality instruction, they are also surrogate parents, helping their students sift through the malaise that so often is the experience of transforming from childhood to adulthood. The plethora of situations for which students need help includes conflict resolution, dealing with peer pressure, decision making, and an assortment of other challenges limited only by one’s imagination.

As current economic conditions place more families in dire financial straits and as the level of poverty continues to grow in some schools, the question of whether public schools and those who labor in them are capable of dealing with the growing number and variety of student needs is important to consider.

Teachers and administrators are facing a “perfect storm” relating to mental health issues in their schools. As recession forces cause a growing number of public assistance agencies to “tighten their belts” and cut staff and reduce services, that same economic pressure makes it more challenging for families to access community resources necessary to support their children.

The fact is that teachers and administrators never have been trained as psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, or mental health workers. While they have continued to grapple with the needs of students born mostly [in] poverty, it is becoming increasingly difficult to meet this challenge.

Students come to school with such challenges as mood disorders, ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, Asperger [Syndrome], learning disabilities, and vision problems, to name a few. Some of these students receive special education services; some do not. Some are medicated. Some are not.

They all arrive at school each day.

Consider the plight of the classroom teacher who is attempting to deliver instruction to a group of 25 to 30 students and has one or more students with one or more of the aforementioned challenges in the class. Crucial instructional time is usurped from the teacher and classmates constantly. So often, this results in falling test scores.

This dilemma is unfolding time and again, too often with multiple students in the same classes, in our public schools. It is a dynamic that goes unacknowledged as educators are pressed to have students demonstrate their academic prowess as a function of their performance on high-stakes content assessments.

The old paradigm simply is not working.

If our public is so demanding on the outputs our public schools are producing, there must be full consideration to providing more and different support for the most needy of our students.

Else, our teachers will do less instructing and our students will do less achieving.

James H. VanSciver (vansciverj@dcpsmd.org) is the principal of Mace’s Lane Middle School in Cambridge, Mass.

Q & A with Jared Cleveland, superintendent and school wellness advocate

When Jared Cleveland’s air conditioning system malfunctioned recently, he got a scolding and a moment of clarity all at the same time. His friend, the repairman, chastised the Lavaca Public Schools superintendent for not performing simple preventative measures like changing the filters and warned that he was headed toward big-ticket repairs if he didn’t change his ways. “Well, that’s exactly what is happening to our kids,” says Cleveland, who convinced his rural Arkansas district to do something big.

Something big meant providing comprehensive health care services in-house; to be precise, in school. Commonly referred to as school-based health centers or SBHCs, these clinics have sprouted up in some 2,000 schools and districts across the country, offering mostly preventative and maintenance services like physicals and health screenings but also specialized care like eye and dental services. A year and a half into the operation, the Lavaca Wellness Center has become a prized jewel in the community though, as Cleveland shares with Senior Editor Naomi Dillon, it was a journey to get there.

When did you notice the link between school health and performance?

In retrospect, I noticed the link as a child. I remember missing numerous days due to sickness as a second-grader. Consequently, my performance suffered greatly. It took me several years to catch up. While an administrator in the Magazine School District, we implemented the eight components of Coordinated School Health (CSH) model. When I moved to Lavaca in 2006 as superintendent, the school board and I committed to the CSH model and began to put the pieces together to focus on the whole child. The school board sets and directs policy. Without commitment and support from them as a unit, nothing can be done.

What kinds of results did you get?

As expected, we have experienced some increased student attendance, staff attendance, and general improvement to staff wellness.

What were the most surprising findings?

We were surprised that the clinic in general is used by adults in the community more than students and staff. For example, in 2011 the Wellness Center saw 1,070 student visits and 5,940 adult visits. The center provides services that were not present in our community before. Because of the Wellness Center, the school district is experiencing a time of unprecedented community support. We have grown from just academic support to whole child, to whole family, and now to whole community support. I look forward to seeing this community grow and prosper from the seeds that have been planted here.

How did this start?

I have not always been passionate about student health. I didn’t know that it had a place in the school setting. I thought that student health was the responsibility of the parents. I still believe that. However, an inordinate number of children are underserved or not served at all. Qualifying for Medicaid is not the problem for many but access to the service is. I noticed significant achievement gaps among groups of children. Poverty coupled with lack of access was the real issue that needed to be addressed for student achievement and overall health to improve. At this time, the school can now serve as a better partner to parents and children by offering services convenient for them. It is easier to educate children if they are healthy and come to school regularly. Providing services on our campus keeps children here and parents at work, reducing valuable time lost at both places. We want to be the best partners we can possibly be for the good of those we serve, the children.

How has adopting a more holistic view of school changed your outlook?

We invest in what we value. I value children and will do what it takes to provide them the best opportunity for success in life. Education is that equalizer needed to construct an awesome future. Certainly without my education, my opportunities would have been diminished. I have grown through this process, gaining greater understanding that we all bring to the table skills and talents that need to be used to accomplish a greater goal. Working in silos and just hoping things will come together is not sufficient any more. We must focus on the goal, using our individual skill and talents to benefit the team and win ... but this is no game.