After years of talking about teacher effectiveness ratings, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board rated itself on Friday.
And it wasn’t pretty.
Most members said the board does a poor job of listening to the community, probing the issues it votes on, taking the long view and working as a team.
Nancy Broner, a former Jacksonville, Fla., school board member who is moderating the CMS board’s two-day retreat, gave the group credit for taking the first step toward improving its effectiveness, even at the risk of public ridicule.
“In the vast majority of districts in this country, the board doesn’t evaluate itself,” said Broner, a trainer with the Houston-based Center for the Reform of School Systems.
The board has 13 hours of meetings scheduled for Friday and Saturday as a new team prepares for leadership. Board Chairwoman Ericka Ellis-Stewart and Vice Chairwoman Mary McCray were elected last November. Amelia Stinson-Wesley was appointed to fill a vacant seat representing the south suburban District 6 in January. And the board came together to hire Heath Morrison as superintendent, effective July 1.
The board’s work will set the tone for a district that teaches about 144,000 students, employs more than 18,000 people and has a budget of $1.2 billion, according to Morrison.
“If you have dysfunction at the top, you have dysfunction throughout the organization,” Morrison said.
Broner handed out clips on truly dysfunctional districts, mostlyin the Atlanta region. One was about a suburban Atlanta board where members had threatened reporters and staff – and where one member threatened to kick another in the groin.
There was no acrimony on display at Friday’s four-hour session at the CMS Leadership Academy, and little discussion. Members spent most of the time hearing a synopsis of one survey identifying each member’s strengths and another rating the board.
Before the meeting, members had answered 29 questions about the board as a whole, which were drawn from a book on effective school boards. Broner presented the results without identifying who agreed and disagreed.
The nine-member board had a strong consensus on only one positive point. Seven members agreed that members serve their constituents without interfering with staff management. That theme has been hammered home in numerous training sessions and retreats over the last few years.
Points where at least seven members had the same view:
• All nine said the board fails to examine possible pitfalls while making important decisions. Broner said some districts create a one-page “benefits and challenges” sheet that ensures they consider possible problems.
• Nine said the board fails to set aside time to study what other school districts are doing. Broner suggested looking for private support to send members to conferences in the face of tight travel budgets.
• Nine said the board fails to have regular discussions of the district’s long-range goals. Rhonda Lennon, who joined the board in 2009, said she answered that way only because Morrison hasn’t yet had a chance to prepare a long-term plan.
Tom Tate, the board’s senior member with seven years served, noted that former Superintendent Peter Gorman had prepared a five-year plan, but “it’s really a superintendent’s strategic plan. It’s not something that we put together as a board and discussed.”
• Eight agreed that “at times this board has appeared unaware of the impact its decisions will have within our service community.”
• Seven said the board does not spend a lot of time listening to different points of view before acting.
• Seven said the board does not usually get “a full rationale” for recommendations it acts on.
• Seven said members are sometimes disrespectful in comments to each other.
• Seven said members sometimes violate confidentiality.
• Seven agreed that “a certain group of board members will usually vote together for or against issues.”
• Seven disagreed that members support majority decisions and work together to see that decisions are accepted and carried out.
The board will resume meeting at 8 a.m. Saturday. Broner said the group will follow up on some of the items in the survey. Also on the agenda: public communication and the relationship between the superintendent and board.