Effingham County Board of Education members took the first step toward becoming a standards board Saturday when they discussed their first self-evaluation.
Superintendent Randy Shearouse said the board would like to become a board of distinction by December.
“We have to have everything done by October, but we believe it’s doable,” he said.
Shearouse said Assistant Superintendent Greg Arnsdorff has begun looking through the standards to identify areas the board needs to improve in.
“The second part to that is for us to form our committee to begin looking at these standards, to begin looking at becoming a board of distinction,” Shearouse said.
He said it was recommended to have a couple of board members on the committee, and he would like for Arnsdorff, Assistant Superintendent Meredith Arnsdorff and himself to be on the committee. There also will be a couple of community members.
“The committee we will appoint will be doing the same thing we are doing here today,” Gregg Arnsdorff said. “They only look at one side of it and that’s the board indicators — they don’t look at the superintendent indicators.”
Arnsdorff said one part of being a board of distinction is that annually the board will review the check list for the “board and superintendent cross checking each other to see how you’re doing now, where you need to go and how you’re going to improve.”
He said he was looking from his perspective as to what areas he felt may need improvement.
The first needs improvement item Arnsdorff addressed is regular review and adoption of the vision statement and mission statement.
“We have something that’s there, it has been adopted by the system, but it hasn’t been re-adopted in a number of years,” Arnsdorff said. “The goals are something that is probably a big issue for us between now and the start of the next school year, defining what the specific goals of the district are.”
He said there has been research on what types of goals districts make, and those will be brought to the board at a future date, asking “what does it take to provide, from the board’s perspective, a quality educational system in Effingham County.”
Board Chairperson Vera Jones said that she and board member Lamar Allen attended a session that explained how to approach this, and they have information that could be helpful to the other board members as the board continues through the process.
Shearouse said he thinks there have been goals that have been met during the past couple of years, but this process is more formal and concrete.
Arnsdorff said the goals are where the board becomes accountable.
“The board should be focused on those goals, and the things the board does should support those goals,” Arnsdorff said. “It is a unified plan of improvement for the whole school district.”
He said it is for the board’s goals to be in a written plan available to the public.
Arnsdorff said the state has provided an instrument to evaluate teachers.
“We’re going to be self assessing, we’re going to be changing the assessment for (Shearouse) so it lines up to the goals,” Jones said. “It seems to me that we should have a better way of evaluating teachers, so it also lines up more accordingly.”
Board member James Dasher said he has always wanted parent evaluations of teachers, but was told it couldn’t happen.
“I had a situation before I ever got on the board where I complained about a teacher to the principal, and nothing ever happened,” he said. “Then they wanted to retain my child in that grade, and I had gone to them in September.
As you talk about it, it turns out there were complaints from other parents that were never documented.”
Dasher said one of the reasons he is on the board is because of the experience his child had in kindergarten.
There are some systems where students and parents evaluate teachers, according to Jones. Shearouse said there are some systems that allow for students to evaluate teachers, and it is seen only by the teacher to give them insight. He said he has read it is a positive tool.
Shearouse said accountability for teachers has changed.
“When I taught 20 years ago, I wasn’t accountable,” he said. “There is a lot more accountability in place now because of testing and so forth now that we never had when I taught school. I got evaluated twice a year, and that was it.”
He said parents are looking at test scores, and while test scores “don’t tell everything, that is a snapshot” to look at.
Arnsdorff said he felt the board needs improvement in establishing local policies, procedures and ethical standards governing the conduct of the board and its members.
“In that area, the biggest issue is a code of ethics will need to be adopted by the board and superintendent, and we have numerous versions that systems have adopted,” Arnsdorff said. “That’s really going to be an interesting discussion in how far you go in prescribing what’s OK and what’s not.”
Arnsdorff said in the area of policy development there are two items the board should address — creating policy and procedures for the repeal of a policy, and establishing procedures to periodically review policy.
He said the distribution of policy is better than it has ever been because all of the policies are available on the system’s Web site.
Shearouse said that had also helped with the dissemination of policy to employees.
“As a school principal I remember getting new policies and I had the hard copy of the manual, and you would have to remember to go in and take out the old policy and put the new one in,” he said. “But now it is updated on the Web, so that’s a lot easier to keep up with.”
Arnsdorff said the board does not currently use a consent agenda, and that can be used.
“There are a lot of things that unless someone objects, these are all approved,” Arnsdorff said. “Then you will have that process to say I want item e 2, e 4 pulled, and that removes it from the consent agenda, and then it becomes a part of the regular agenda and needs to be discussed.”
Arnsdorff said he thinks the board and superintendent are meeting the standards in most places, but there are some areas that need to be worked on.
“I would think that once you appoint this committee and they go through the same process, I think that we can clarify and develop our plan, and maybe address those goals,” Arnsdorff said.
He believes the process can be completed by the end of July or early August.