At the Aug. 18 District 65 School Board meeting, Superintendent Paul Goren presented a plan to winnow down and prioritize the topics that the School Board will discuss this coming school year and to reduce the number of Board and Committee meetings from 34 to 24.
He said the current meeting schedule does not provide sufficient time for administrators to do proper fact finding, analysis and preparation of reports for each meeting. In addition, he said, senior leadership is involved in day-to-day operational leadership where work occurs into the evening and on weekends.
“I want to pace our efforts so that we can be a high performing organization focused on operations, policy development, and transparent feedback from the Board and the public,” he said. “Fewer meetings with focused agendas will accomplish this as we move forward.”
One way to reduce the number of meetings, Dr. Goren suggested, is to combine the Board’s Working Meetings with either the Finance or Policy Committee meetings.
Board members seemed open to the idea of prioritizing and reducing the number of topics brought before the Board, but several expressed concerns about merging the Finance Committee’s meetings with Board meetings and about moving too fast.
Board President Tracy Quattrocki and Board member Katie Bailey will meet with Dr. Goren and put together a proposal that will be presented to the Board at its Sept. 8 meeting.
The Proposal, Dr. Goren’s High Priority Topics
The goal of his proposal, Dr. Goren said, was to “be a bit more focused on priorities” and to “find the right mix of meetings to address the issues we need to address.”
One key part of the proposal “is to think about some of the high priority items that we believe, that I believe, we’re going to be discussing this year.” He referred to the following items:
• The development of a strategic plan;
• “Issues around principal and teacher development,” including “how we think about attracting and hiring and retaining top-notch talent like the top-notch talent that we have. How do we build that out?”
• “The wide range of issues around school climate and school culture. We just received the data from the 5 Essentials survey that we’re examining before they go out for public dissemination. How do we actually think about using these data?’
• “We want to and will always be deeply involved in community engagement and the broad range of issues of how we reach out to our families.”
• “We know that there are instructional issues that we want to tackle over the next year or two – issues around culturally relevant curriculum. We started the conversation around ACC [African Centered Curriculum] and perhaps there are other places in the District that we can actually talk about.”
• “We know the Common Core State Standards is here. And the PARCC exam is here. We have to be ready for that and we have to be understanding and reporting out to you all about that.”
• “Issues around mathematics and acceleration and the potential for acceleration in other content areas are places to address.”
• “Alternatives to suspension are a charge that we have from the Policy Committee, and we’re convening a task force. We’ve made major changes already in the handbook that change the language from that of ‘suspension’ to that of ‘support.’ … We want to develop alternatives to suspension and execute programs well.”
• The Finance Committee is considering referenda. “We had an initial conversation about a capital referendum, and I think … we have to deeply consider whether an operating referendum is something we should be moving forward on.”
In a speech to District 65 teachers last week, Dr. Goren listed additional work ahead of the District this year: taking on the challenges of addressing the achievement gap between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds and the gaps between those from different racial and ethnic groups; continuing to work on Community Schools and the Cradle to Career Initiative; and developing even stronger ties with colleagues at Evanston Township High School.
Dr. Goren said he wanted the schedule of meetings to be structured to cover these topics and “absolutely engage you as trustees and engage the community. I just want to make sure that we can do the appropriate analytical work and deep dives so that we can move the policy and practices forward.”
He suggested that after obtaining feedback from the Board on his proposal to modify the meeting schedule, that one or two Board members could meet with him and other staff members and “solidify a process for going forward.”
“I appreciate what you’re trying to do in terms of making us more productive and in some sense focusing on the issues that are going to move us forward,” said Ms. Bailey.
She said the Board’s agenda for this year “needs to be lighter. … I think we’ve got too many topics. … “I think we as a Board need to take guidance from the administrative team about what you think is crucial on that list.”
She added, though, that many new people have joined the District this year and that she was concerned about making a big change now. As an example, she said, “One thing I’m concerned about is merging a Finance Committee meeting with a Working Board meeting. I look at how much we have to do in Finance.”
The Finance Committee is currently looking at strategies to address the projected operating deficits; it is reviewing potential building and technology projects to include in a capital referendum; and it may consider an operating referendum to increase property tax revenues as one way to address the projected operating deficits, as well as to address potential State legislation that may shift teacher pension costs from the State to school districts and reduce State funding to District 65.
“I think there are some things we can do to reduce the number of meetings,” said Ms. Bailey, “but I’m not sure that eliminating or merging Finance is the answer.”
Suni Kartha suggested one way to reduce the burden on administrators is to reduce the number of “massive” reports they provide. She said, though, “To reduce the number of times we can get together to discuss things concerns me a little bit.”
Claudia Garrison said she was interested in reducing the number of meetings, but not if it would mean having fewer but longer meetings. She said Board members are less productive when a meeting extends past 9 or 10 p.m.
Richard Rykhus proposed that Board President Tracy Quattrocki and Ms. Bailey meet with Dr. Goren and administrative staff to finalize a meeting structure and to bring back a proposal to the Board for the Sept. 8 meeting.
Ms. Kartha asked that it include proposed dates of meetings to address the development of the District’s strategic plan.
Dr. Goren said the proposal would include the structure, topics and number of meetings, and the degree to which something requires a long analytic report versus a short informational report.