Board Retreat: Impressions

I'd been under the weather for several days, but was feeling better and made a point of going to the Board's scheduled retreat in Devens* this past Tuesday. I thought I'd share some of my lingering impressions:
  • Elections (and ballot questions) have consequences. Once we were coffeed and seated(1), the Chair opened the meeting with some comments about "company off-sites"(2), the election, and the Board's work. About the election he said (paraphrasing), in terms of Massachusetts, we're "maintaining the status quo" for children in our schools, and members of the Board have a "role to play" and it's more important than ever that we help every student become proficient. Some members said they weren't clear if he was talking about the outcome of the national election or of the charter school ballot question. He clarified that he was indeed talking about Question 2 and was of the opinion that the outcome of that debate had [put] "limitations on this Board". Suffice to say there were several around the table still feeling sour about the outcome of Q2, which was soundly repudiated by voters 2:1.
  • Safety pin solidarity. In light of the outcome of the national election, several members commented specifically about the spike in harassment, hate speech, and bullying playing out, not only in communities across the country, but with students in schools across the state. The Department noted that school superintendents are providing reassurance to support students. I raised the Attorney General's hate crime hotline and asked if either the Commissioner or Secretary had worked/is working in coordination with her on this issue. Both said no. The Secretary was of the mind (paraphrasing) that these incidents were coming on the heels of the election and might be "out of proportion" due to social media sharing. The Commissioner said he'd be meeting with superintendents and "schools as safe places". (Have to wonder who is advising the Governor and his team on this and why the Governor remains silent? As of this writing, many thousands of phone calls have been made to the Executive Office, with a request that the Governor address the issues to which my Board colleagues attest and to which the Attorney General has responded: to openly declare Massachusetts a safe haven from hate). 
  • How many Board members does it take to write a mission statement? There was a good exchange of ideas about updating the Board's mission statement, with a decision to let things sit for a while, as opposed to forming a subcommittee to wordsmith a new one.
  • Actually, the Foundation Budget wasn't on the agenda. There was uneven reference to it, nonetheless, and to the Foundation Budget Review Commission's analysis showing Chapter 70 funding is about $2Billion short. Inadequate education funding was brought up by one member who asked if it's within the Board's purview to advocate for implementation of adequate education funding, including the FBRC's recommendations and the "Fair Share Amendment" proposal to come before voters in November 2018. I said that adequate funding is central to everything we do and that we should be advocating for it. FBRC came up again, noted under the last bullet below.
  • Does the SEA add value to schools and districts? If you're a Superintendent or Principal, the answer is yes, according to DESE data gleaned from surveys since 2009:
    • Asked whether or not ESE provides services in a coherent, well coordinated fashion:
      • Superintendents agreed 57.9% (24.1% in 2009)
      • Principals agreed 65.9% (41.0% in 2009)
    • As to whether ESE is effective in its efforts to improve the overall quality of K-12 education:
      • Superintendents agreed 66.7% (41.7% in 2009)
      • Principals agreed by a whopping 74.6% (58.4% in 2009)
  • The Board and Department didn't strategize, per se. The Commissioner presented his slides: several slides on changing demographics in Massachusetts and the wide variation in school effectiveness; several scatter plots illustrating persistent gaps in achievement, along with the range of achievement at each level of school economic disadvantage. Teeing it up as his most "provocative" slide, the Commissioner displayed a slide with information about students in high poverty, high minority schools:  
     So, there followed some discussion about how to work with this information, and several questions asked by my colleagues: Had the Department looked at thus and such, and the Department responded with their data and engagement with the field. After some discussion, again I raised the fact that the Foundation Budget is some $2Billion short and this time I was met with questions from the Secretary: How does increased funding change the information [in the slide]? How does [increasing Foundation Funding] change the effectiveness of teachers in the face of these facts? I don't know, but I posit that the educational enterprise is an eco-system and everything is connected. If schools and districts had the adequate funding that the Foundation Budget Review Commission's analysis acknowledges they lack (for English language learners, in determining economic disadvantage, special education, and addressing costs of health insurance), who knows what positive impact would be felt in other areas, including teacher effectiveness? And we owe it to our children to find out.
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*The Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign will host the  DissemiNATION Fair in Devens on Friday.

(1). Board Members Present: Paul Sagan, Chair; James Morton, Vice Chair; Nathan Moore, Student Representative; Jim Peyser, Secretary of Education; Ed Doherty, Labor Representative; Michael Moriarity; Penny Noyce; Yours truly, Parent Rep. Board members absent: Roland Fryer, Katherine Craven, and Margaret McKenna had informed the chair in advance of their unavailability to attend this day. Staff members in attendance: Jeff Wulfson, Deputy Commissioner; Bill Bell, Associate Commissioner for Administration and Finance; Russell Johnston, Senior Associate Commissioner; Carrie Conaway, Chief Strategy and Research Officer; Heather Peske, Senior Associate Commissioner; Rhoda Schneider, General Counsel; Cliff Chuang, Senior Associate Commissioner for Educational Options; Helene Bettencourt, Chief of Staff; Lauren Greene, Assistant Chief of Staff; Jessica Leitz, Communications

(2). Retreat off-sites are publicly posted meetings of the Board; we had one member of the public join us at a little before 10:00.