Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Where the Charter School Board Should Focus

Most charter school governing boards spend the bulk of their meeting time discussing budgets, facilities, logistics and policies--the "business" side of a charter school. But the focus should be on student academic achievement. A good barometer for how well a governing board is doing with implementing its vision and mission is to consider how much meeting time it focuses on student achievement.

Oftentimes a governing board will be focused on the immediate needs of a charter school such as calming parent concerns or addressing facility limitations. But the most important reason to have a charter school is to make sure students are learning and able to move to the next grade level or graduate with the skills and knowledge necessary for a successful future.

Almost all of Colorado's charter schools have student academic achievement in their vision and mission statements. However, the amount of time boards spend on discussing or implementing this aspect of the school's purpose can vary significantly.

At each year's strategic planning session, the entire board should discuss the vision and mission statements. Each board member could talk about what word or phrase stands out to them the most and why. Each board member should explain what their personal vision is for the school and how it does or doesn't match with the school's vision statement. Another useful approach is to have the board distill the vision statement down to a slogan or phrase that best describes their school. For example, some schools use the slogan, "First Comes Learning" to communicate the school's primary purpose and to use as a filter for all decision-making.

It's wise for charter school board members to periodically reflect on what unspoken messages they're sending to school staff and stakeholders. If verbally board members say they prioritize academics as number one, but then don't reflect that in their work, it means little.

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