I guess they weren’t in an inquisitive mood. Either that or most already had minds made up. We candidates did submit cover letters. Not that I expected to be chosen to fill the school board vacancy. They needed to select the best person to bring strength to where school board is weak and school district stagnant. Besides, like John Adams, I am obnoxious and disliked.
Although, since we were invited for what they said would be an interview, I did expect that the directors would ask a question or two. It seemed a pointless exercise. We all benefit from fruitful, feisty discussions. They, however, weren’t inquisitive. I was, especially since the day before this board meeting I job-shadowed a middle school English teacher to observe, listen and learn. I’m sure each of the directors have spent a day learning, listening and observing what happens on the front lines of our schools.
So, during my school day, inquisitive me started making a list of questions for the board directors. They didn’t ask me any questions so I gave them a list of my questions. I appreciated it when one director acknowledged what I had prepared. Here’s the list:
Students: What is the student population trend? How many students in each grade require an IEP? How does this compare with previous years? What is the truancy rate compared with previous years? What is the drop-out rate compared with previous years? How many students receive subsidized meals? Is this percentage increasing or decreasing? How many students participate in e-learning? How is the effectiveness of cyber school evaluated? How does the district encourage and equip parents to fulfill their primary role in their child’s education? Is there a gulf between achieving students and non-achieving students? How is achievement defined? If so, is the gulf decreasing or increasing? If there is a gulf, what is being done to remedy the situation? What percentage of the students in high school have a grade point average of 90 +? Is there grade inflation?
Review: How do state and federal mandates affect school schedules? What do graduates report about readiness for college work? (e.g., why do a variety of graduates report their writing skills are inadequate for college or university?) Is the attention given to preparing for standardized testing (standardized tests require standardized answers) affecting other areas of instruction and stifling student creative and critical thinking? What is being done to review and, if necessary, correct the consequences of Bendle’s tenure? Which grades are, in the opinion of the board, the critical grades demanding extra support and attention? (Andrews’ priorities are Head Start to third grade and middle school) What criteria are being used to hire a new superintendent? How often has the board of directors consulted with all frontline staff (custodial, food service, nursing, guidance, secretarial, teachers) to explore what they believe needs to be fixed? Does the district need to improve how all staff are treated and given de-centralized authority as professionals? Do administrators view their role as serving the staff and increasing their potential? How do district libraries interact with Beaver Library? Where are we with regard to teacher negotiations?
Teaching: By whom and when is the worth and value of curriculum evaluated? What hindrances need to be corrected in both horizontal and vertical lines of communication between teachers and grades with regard to preparation and planning? Does the staff have sufficient time to collaborate, prepare, and learn from each other regarding students, resources, curriculum? (e.g., how are teachers tasked with Bendle’s ‘What I Need’ classes (de facto study halls) prepared to help students from mixed grades?) Who conducts exit interviews with departing staff and what is done with their comments? Is the investment required of teachers in preparing lesson plans that include PowerPoint, Ted talks, Chrome-feedback yielding satisfactory dividends? (e.g., is the Career Unit the best possible use of ELA talent?) Given how the middle school auditorium gets turned into a bus station waiting room when we lack teachers, what is being done to recruit substitute teachers? Is there interest in reviving an Adult Education Outreach? Is there interest in coordinating how to reach out into the community to recruit auxiliary teachers with special gifts and expertise who could supplement and expand educational resources?
We support our directors when they serve students, staff and community. It’s an intellectually demanding privilege requiring curiosity, creativity, commitment, plus the desire to learn and change by asking hard, uncomfortable questions. Questions collect information so decisions become apparent.
The Rev. Robert Andrews is retired pastor of Grove Presbyterian Church in Danville. Read more of his work at robertjohnandrews.com.