laurie kimbrel atlanta

by Laurie Kimbrel

Public participation in local government is the foundation of American democracy.  Nowhere is this more evident than in our public schools, where elected boards of education work together to ensure that systems and policies are in place to support student learning.  Since the decisions of a school board impact our children, the stakes are high, and it’s essential that voters take the time to be informed before they cast their ballots.

 

The Role of the Board

Although school board meetings sometimes look structured and routine to the outside observer, the board makes a number of very important decisions about how our schools operate.  It’s important to remember that school districts are governed collectively by boards, rather than by individual trustees.  Because the board is a governmental body, it can only take action by majority vote at a public meeting.  According to the American Associations of School Boards, there are some characteristics that are common to good school boards no matter where they are in the country:

  • Good boards set a vision for their districts based on input from stakeholders.  The vision is an aspirational statement of what should be true for all students.  Decisions of the board should be made in light of the mission.
  • Good school boards set policy for the district and listen to a variety of stakeholder groups as a part of the policy-setting process.
  • Good school boards understand the budget and ensure that it responsibly supports the mission.
  • Good boards attempt to reach decisions that all members can support.
  • Good school boards make every effort to operate openly by encouraging public attendance at their meetings and keeping constituents informed of the district’s progress.
  • Good boards are efficient and have protocols and procedures for how they will operate as a team.
  • Good boards know that they are in the business of education.  They talk about education, they study the needs of students, and they are familiar with current educational research.
  • Good school boards know the difference between governance (which is the board’s job) and management (which is the administration’s job), and place a high priority on respecting that difference.

 

What to Look for in an Individual Trustee

Good school trustees can come from all walks of life.  The ability to work together as a team is not determined by age, race, occupation, income, or social standing.  Both the California School Boards Association and the American School Boards Association have identified the characteristics of effective trustees.  These qualities may be helpful to keep in mind as you are researching the views and experiences of the candidates.  An effective individual trustee:

  • Has the proven ability to work as a member of a team, including keeping an open mind and engaging in give-and-take to arrive at a group consensus.
  • Keeps learning and achievement of all students as their primary focus.
  • Takes the time necessary to become informed and do the homework required to actively take part in effective school board meetings.
  • Recognizes and respects differences of perspective and style on the board and among staff, students, parents, and the community.
  • Acts with dignity and understands the implications of demeanor and behavior.
  • Keeps confidential matters confidential.
  • Participates in professional development and commits the time and energy necessary to be an informed leader.

Effective trustees are often those who have proved successful in their particular vocations or avocations, and who have demonstrated a genuine concern for the needs of students and community improvement.  Schools and students need trustees who believe unequivocally in the value of public education.  Trustees must be dedicated to serving and teaching each and every student.

 

As with all elections, we should become informed voters and make our choices wisely.  After all, our new trustees will have the awesome responsibility of looking out for the best interests of our students, and our students deserve the very best.

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by Laurie Kimbrel, Ed.D.

On of the qualities of an excellent educator is the belief that every student can and must learn at high levels. High quality teachers also know that some students need more time or support in order to reach expected levels of proficiency and that it is their role to provide the learning experiences necessary to produce student growth. One of the biggest challenges of teaching is that in a typical classroom, the students have a wide range of abilities, interests, backgrounds and readiness for learning the content.

There are a multitude of techniques that excellent teachers use to ensure that they meet the needs of the wide variety of students in their classrooms. Here are just a few strategies for educators to consider as they develop plans to meet the diverse needs of their students. Of course, all of these strategies have a time and a place and are not appropriate on every occasion. Similarly, some of these strategies can require additional work on the part of the teacher and so they should be used as time permits.

Focus on Student Interests

Great teachers take the time to know their students both on both an academic and personal level. It’s important to understand a student’s interest beyond the classroom. What do they enjoy doing in their spare time? What motivates them outside of school? One of the most powerful ways to motivate students in the classroom is to incorporate their interests into what they learn. Determine methods and times to allow students to choose the topics that they want to talk about. When possible, incorporate their interests into the content or assignments. A focus on student interests can also be a powerful relationship builder. It matters to a student that the teacher has taken the time to understand their passions and interests.

Increase Student Choice in Assignments and Assessments

Students can demonstrate an understanding of content in a number of ways. Many teachers successfully use student choice as a method to increase engagement and motivation. Consider offering a variety of options for an assignment. If the purpose of the assignment is understanding of a key concept, why not let some students write about it, allow others to present to the class or have a one on one conference with the teacher. If the learning goal includes written communication, offer choice in terms of the topic or area of research.

Technology as a Tool to Enhance Instruction

Students are digital natives and often feel more comfortable working with technology than adults. Some students are more likely to be more engaged when they use electronic devices in class or to complete homework. It is important to note that technology should not be utilized for the sake of having a device in front of the student. It should enhance the lesson and the content rather than becoming the sole focus.

Student Collaboration in Groups

Students often benefit from collaborative work with their peers. There are a number of ways to group students in order to maximize the learning experience. Some teachers prefer to allow students to choose their own groups so that they are able to work with friends. Others prefer to arrange students into mixed ability groups so that stronger students have the opportunity to re-teach or provide leadership to struggling students. Still other teachers use a variety of groupings so that students have experience working successfully with a variety of peers.

Focus on Equity versus Equality

If we truly believe it is our role to ensure that all students learn, then our focus should be on equity versus equality. A focus on equality would mean that every student has the same instruction and amount of time to learn. However, we know that some students need more time or support and so our focus should be to ensue equitable outcomes. If a student needs more time to learn and demonstrate mastery, then it should be provided. If a student needs more support then the teacher should work both individually and with his or her colleagues to provide it as well. Learning is not a race. Those who master a concept quickly should be provided opportunities to deepen and apply their learning but students who take more time should not be left behind.

 

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