Montgomery school board rethinks role as school system realigns values

In their first-ever self-evaluation, the eight members of the Montgomery County Board of Education said they needed to improve how they monitor student achievement, keep track of the budget and make decisions that align with their core values — three criteria that received the lowest marks out of seven total measures.

Board members gave themselves better reviews for communicating with the community, following policy guidance and working with each other and the superintendent, according to the evaluations, which members discussed at an all-day meeting June 20 at the Richard Montgomery High School media center.

The board outlined steps it could take to do a better job. Members were hesitant to set specific items to take action on, however, because both the board’s core values and the school system’s strategic plan will be discussed in the coming school year.

Board members were scheduled to listen to a presentation on the core values on Monday, and work will begin on changes next month. A school board committee was looking at the strategic plan.

Also, under the direction of Superintendent Joshua P. Starr, the district goals are changing, said Board Vice President Christopher S. Barclay (Silver Spring) on June 20.

Starr praised the board for its work, thanking it for undergoing the self-evaluation.

The board is “working really hard to learn what great boards can do,” Starr said.

In the review, five board members said their performance was lacking when it came to adopting a mission, vision and core values; revisiting those values often; and using them to make decisions. Ratings and opinions in the evaluation were anonymous.

Board members said they agreed on June 20 that, as they rewrite their core values, they would try to make them a better guide for making decisions.

Barclay said it would help if the values were simplified, although board member Laura Berthiaume (Rockville-Potomac) cautioned against making them so simple they exclude important missions.

When it came to monitoring student achievement, the board members said they needed to revisit the kind of data they are requesting from the school system; four members wrote in the evaluation that the board did not meet expectations in this area.

Board members also said they needed to make sure they have correct data when talking about issues and know how to use it.

“We need a baseline for understanding data to use it well,” Barclay said.

Board members said they also agreed on a need to improve their ability to use data analysis to guide decision-making.

Although the group identified 26 ways to improve, only a few action items were created June 20.

Board member Phil Kauffman (At Large) said the board didn’t have a formal process for moving forward with important items that are introduced during public comments at board meetings.

“Should we be reacting to those things, or not?” he asked.

Board President Shirley Brandman (At Large) said she would set up an ad hoc committee to form a process for dealing with those kinds of items.

The communications committee was also plannning to look at the ways the board reached out to the public, such as cluster meetings and budget forums.

Other areas the members said they could improve on were aligning budget decisions more closely to strategic priorities and re-examining the board’s policies.

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