New CMS board faces immediate test of direction

Dec. 10, 2011

Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting allows the public an opportunity to speak out on how to serve the district’s high-needs children.

The Eric Smith superintendency of 1996-2002 saw the board make commitments to extra efforts to educate high-needs children as it created an assignment policy that it knew would create low-performing schools. Those commitments ran into fiscal trouble during the Great Recession, but the now-departing board, elected in 2009, itself steered away from them during Supt. Peter Gorman’s superintendency.

111210PolicyOn the agenda Tuesday is a rewrite of one of the policies that the 2001 board created to force the administration to make extra efforts on behalf of those children. People who attend the first part of Tuesday’s 6 p.m. meeting will be allowed to speak during a public hearing on the proposed policy change.

Any superintendent intent on the task of making sure every child is educated could push resources where they are needed to accomplish the task. But the CMS board historically has not been satisfied with the effort, so in 2001 it got very specific in its policy statements on what should be done.

Tuesday’s proposed rewrite appears to put the effort back in the superintendent’s hands – at a time when the administration is in an interim year and parents are searching for clues on the new direction for CMS.

Some parents may see the rewrite on the table Tuesday as the board washing their hands of the effort.

The staff note on the agenda item in effect says the effort was abandoned more than a year ago, so no big deal. The note reads:

“Amendments to Policy GCKA are proposed in order to align the policy with the 2010 amendments to Policy ADA, ‘Equitable Distribution of Resources.’ The proposed amendments have been approved by the Policy Committee.”

The text of the proposed amendment may be downloaded here from the CMS website. According to the CMS website, the Board Policy Committee’s current members are Tom Tate, Rhonda Lennon, Richard McElrath and Trent Merchant. Merchant’s at-large term ends with Tuesday’s meeting, as Ericka Ellis-Stewart, Mary McCray and Tim Morgan take at-large seats and Morgan’s old District 6 seat becomes vacant. Also leaving the board are at-large members Kaye McGarry and Joe White.

The 2010 revision of Policy ADA, titled “Equitable Distribution of Resources,” says the board “is committed to providing the best education available anywhere, preparing every child to lead a rich and productive life. This commitment will be realized when the academic achievement of every student breaks the predictive link between student demographics (race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and the like) and student achievement.”

Policy ADA says the superintendent “shall establish and implement a systematic framework for distribution of resources throughout the district that ensures all students are taught by effective teachers and have equitable resources and facilities.”

The effect of ADA after its 2010 revisions appears to be to leave all the details to the superintendent. The text of Policy ADA is here.

The rewrite to be discussed Tuesday removes from board policy the very specific 2001 commitment to place at struggling schools a teaching staff equivalent to the staff that could be found at the district’s most successful schools. The policy said the tests of equivalency would be based on levels of teacher training, teacher years of experience in the classroom, and teacher success with students. Gorman cited a controversial study to argue that teacher credentials were not predictive of success.

The board signaled the abandonment of these standards when it earlier eliminated its Equity Committee, which was set up in 2002 in the wake of the 2001 policy shift, specifically to monitor the policy’s implementation.

Also troubling: The rewrite eliminates a requirement that the superintendent report each year to the board on how teachers are assigned to the schools.

The rewrite on the table Tuesday also appears to eliminate one basis in board policy for paying teachers more when they agree to “address critical needs of the school system,” whether that’s by serving at high-needs schools or in, say, classes where qualified teachers are hard to find.

The rewrite retains the policy basis on which superintendents can reassign teachers against their will. But superintendents in the past have been loathe to use that power, even though such assignments are standard practice in other public sector service, like firefighting and policing.

As the new Board of Education takes over Tuesday, it faces a test of its mettle as it decides how to vote in coming weeks on the proposed policy change.

Tuesday’s meeting will be broadcast live on cable channel 3. Board members traditionally discuss and vote later on issues discussed at public hearings.