Communication between members needs improvement, board members say
By Megan Kelley
LAKE ORION — The Lake Orion Community Schools Board of Education met last Wednesday for one of their two yearly workshop meetings where they reviewed the results of their board self assessment.
The board was asked to complete a questionnaire to gauge where the board needs improvement and how board members feel about specific areas like leadership, effectiveness, responsibilities and general operations of the board.
Each category is scored on a scale of one to five with five being excellent and one being unsatisfactory.
Only six of the seven board members completed the questionnaire.
Leadership received a score of 3.60 (satisfactory), academic performance/accountability scored 4.15 (good), board responsibilities received a 4.25 (good), board effectiveness scored 4.35 (good), data-driven decision-making scored a 3.70 (satisfactory), board superintendent relations received a score of 4.60 (good) and community engagement/advocacy scored 3.82 (satisfactory).
While a majority of the areas saw little change in the scores received, three specific areas saw a relatively significant dip compared to last year’s results: leadership, data-driven decision-making and community engagement/advocacy.
Community engagement/advocacy was discussed earlier in the meeting when the board received a presentation on legislative advocacy from Executive Director of Government Relations for Oakland Schools Lisa Hansknecht.
However, the other two subject areas (leadership and data-driven decision-making) required additional discussion from the board.
The dip in the leadership score steamed from a number of questions that received numerous answers of two (needs improvement) including how the board handles controversial items, which five of the six members said needed improvement.
During discussion on how to improve leadership, the board was in agreement that the issue was communication with each other.
Several members of the board used the example of an agenda item — about a proposed book-to-movie proposal for a high school class — that had been removed from the agenda just before the meeting where some members felt blindsided by the item being removed.
After some conversation it became clear that the agenda item was one the board had seen already but had yet to approve. When the board had previously discussed the item, the board was conflicted on whether to approve the administrative request.
Board members said they had discussed the topic individually with one another, and while some were in favor of approving the request, others had concerns and that the request for approval should come, it might not have enough votes to pass.
At the next meeting, though the topic was originally on the agenda, it was pulled at the last minute.
Trustee Steve Drakos was one of the members who said he felt blindsided when the topic was pulled.
“I wasn’t sure which way I was going to go,” Drakos said. “I come here to learn and discuss with everybody…I wanted to have a discussion.”
Drakos also revealed that the agenda item was the whole class novel approval for the high school course “Literature and the Big Screen”, which was requested and discussed over the summer and was expected to be voted on but never was.
Drakos went on to say that he felt, regardless of the potential outcome, the board should have discussed the topic in front of constituents.
Several board members disagreed, stating that debating on the topic was not what was best for the students mostly because the district already had a backup plan in place that they had decided to go with instead.
Superintendent Ben Kirby explained that the reason the agenda item was pulled was not because they felt they didn’t have the votes to receive approval, but because ultimately they felt the best way to move forward with the course at this time was to have students choose which novels they wanted to read rather than assign the class an entire novel to read together.
Kirby also added that the course is currently taking place under that guidance.
The discussion seemed to answer the lingering questions some members still had about the situation, and it was clear that the reason it became an issue was because of the lack of communication between board members, which most agreed needed improvement.
The board then moved on to discuss the dip in the data-driven decision-making score, one that was relatively surprising to see considering over the past few years the district had begun giving student achievement data presentations three times a year.
The board seemed to be mostly in agreement that though the data presented is helpful, there is some that is less helpful than others, and that they feel they are not receiving all the data that they want to see.
“I don’t think the board is asking to micromanage in this realm, just we want to know what’s going on in this realm so we can support (it) in this realm,” said board President Birgit McQuiston.
Board Treasurer Jake Singer also said that something that could help this is simply knowing what data the district is looking at so the board can be informed on what data is being monitored and what data can be provided, if requested.
Kirby said that the presentations are based on what data the board has requested and are typically more overviews of things, rather than deep dives, adding that the data presentations can be tweaked based on what the board is looking for.
In the past, the district has added data areas at the board’s request, more recently adding a section on attendance data and more high school data.
“I have appreciated the breadth; that we have added some high school data, that we’ve added attendance data and things like that,” Singer said. “So, that would be my preference as a board to say, if we can see more measures of where our success or challenges lie. That’s more important to me as a board member than to say, ‘oh, let’s talk about why in 10th grade history, this many students choose regular and this many choose AP. That’s details, (but) that’s an extreme example.”
District Data Specialist Kirk Webber last gave a data presentation to the board in July and is expected to give another presentation in the fall on beginning of the year data, likely at a November meeting.