Mehlville board closer to setting 2011-2012 goals

By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

The Mehlville Board of Education last week moved a step closer to establishing its goals for the current school year.

As proposed, the goals will focus on the areas of strategic planning for facilities; board development and governance; technology and student achievement; highly qualified staff, including professional development; community engagement/involvement; and fiscal responsibility.

The board arrived at those areas after reviewing proposals submitted by board Vice President Larry Felton and board member Mark Stoner.

Board members agreed to submit three to five comments for each area, including how to measure progress on achieving those goals, to Superintendent Eric Knost. Knost then will assemble the proposed goals and measurements for the board to discuss when it meets in January.

In reviewing the proposals submitted by Felton and Stoner along with the existing board goals, which were formulated two years ago, Knost said at the Nov. 30 meeting that he found “commonalities” in all three, including the areas of student achievement, highly qualified staff, community engagement, professional development and fiscal responsibility.

Felton questioned how the board will measure its progress on achieving the goals it establishes.

“… What are we going to be measured on? We know what Dr. Knost and the staff will be measured on based on his evaluation and his vision points. What are we going to be measured on?” Felton asked.

Board Secretary Elaine Powers later said, “I would agree, Larry. As I was thinking about this, I was trying to define in my own head what is the difference between superintendent goals, the CSIP (Comprehensive School Improvement Plan) goals and the board goals. And certainly they all — they align, they tie together. But I was trying to delineate what’s the difference and I think at the board goal level we really need to be big picture, strategic kind of thinking and then the others are a little more operational and measurable.

“My issue with the primary goals as they’re stated is they don’t read to me like goals, to some extent. They read to me like a purpose. And what’s the purpose of our board? To ensure fiscal responsibility … It’s a goal, but it’s not — that’s nothing that adds its stamp like that, that is measurable or gives us really something to put our hands around … I think the statements themselves need to have some more meat to them,” she added.

Knost said, “I think that’s an excellent point and I’ve picked up that from my individual conversations with all of you and I understand what’s important to you.

“So let me be clear. What I was proposing is that you determine collectively tonight what those overarching areas are … The leadership and assistance I can offer is to turn those into proposed, measurable goals. Mark has done that to some degree in some of his examples. Larry as well. So I can take that further input and once those areas are decided, we can come back. I can propose those. We can tweak them and then we can determine those measurable pieces, too, that Larry’s talking about.

“And again, in some cases Mark has very good examples of those measurements. So that was my proposal …”

After asking Knost to reiterate the five areas of “commonalities,” Felton said he wanted to suggest two other areas.

“… One, I think there needs to be a strategic planning piece and I think what you’re doing with the one-, three- and five-year views (for facilities) I think leads us to that, but we have to look five years down the road what we want to be and what we want to grow. And that’s why we need demographic information and educational trends. What’s going on in Washington that’s going to mess us up — I mean help us …,” he said.

Felton added, “I think there has to be something in here, something in terms of board engagement or board development because we talk about highly qualified staff. Well, I think a board has to grow … You talk about community engagement. I saw that as the school district as a whole being interactive with its community. I think the board has to have a similar goal at its level of it has to be more interactive and I think it has to develop itself — just suggestions.”

Board member Rich Franz later expressed his concern that the board has yet to establish goals for the current school year.

“… I’m concerned about the message we’re sending to the community that it’s now going to be January — halfway through the school year — and we haven’t established goals yet,” he said. “And as a member of the board, I’m just as responsible as anyone. But I think we not only owe it to the community, but we owe them an explanation for why it’s taking us this long to come up with goals …”

Knost said, “Good opportunity to do that.”

Franz said, “… And I have no defense other than the fact that we haven’t got it done.”

Knost said, “… I will say this and it’s going to sound like I’m trying to stroke your ego here, but this board is a very determined board and this board has high expectations for me and your No. 1 job as a board, whether you like it or not, is to hire a superintendent to be your CEO for the district. And you have established high expectations for me that are very clear to me. I very much understand that.

“So keep in mind that even though the vision points that were established are my goals and the things I’m working on, remember those developed out of our retreat along with my vision.

“So it’s not like you’ve been sitting on your duff. I mean it’s clearly a collective effort … That’s the reason I’ve been stressing the vision points and if you would talk to my staff, it’s the way we work. Monday mornings, whether we have a full CO meeting or it’s a week where we have just a cabinet meeting, we discuss those vision points and the progress that was made and we’ve kept that transparent piece on the website …,” the superintendent said.

Board member Tom Diehl noted that some of the board’s goals, such as student achievement and highly qualified teachers, carry over from year to year.

“… But realistically I think as I look at this, I would like to see how any of the board goals support the No. 1 goal of student achievement and for measuring whatever we set for ourselves would have that element in it and continually moving that forward,” he said.

Franz said, “I agree. And my only other comment about that is I think some of the suggestions Larry made address that. I like what you’ve come up with to do that. So I’m challenging myself, I’m challenging all the board members and I’m especially challenging Venki (Palamand) as the president to keep us focused and let’s get this done because we owe it to the folks to set an example …”

Stoner said, “I want to say one thing in regards to the goals overall. I think that if you start to look at it from a one-year perspective, you really get much more in the management of the district. I think the goals themselves need to be more of a long-term perspective.

“In other words, I think if the board goes back and sets out new goals every year, we’re going to be a like a pingpong ball bouncing across the table. I think probably the more appropriate perspective would be to review the goals to make sure that they still fit.”

Knost later said, “… I think Mark makes a great point that there’s a fine line between governance goals and management goals … I think that’s why, quite often, that they do become more visionary statements per se …

“But it doesn’t mean you can’t have measures that you’re going to look at to see what the achievement is and to make the decisions on how to tweak them going forward in the long-range piece …”