Strategic planning and visioning have been the focus of the Newton Board of Education for several months now. While facilities and a potential bond issue have been the main topic of conversation recently, the discussion turned internal at Monday night's meeting as board members and district administration begin to talk about goals for what goes on inside the district classrooms.
To receive accreditation from the Kansas Department of Education, USD 373 superintendent Deb Hamm noted there are goals the board needs to set and meet within certain categories every five years. Among those categories — the five Rs of relationships, rigor, responsive culture, relevance and results — Hamm said the state is moving away from an emphasis on results. While results remain a key part of the educational equation, areas like behavior and school culture are gaining more relevance at the same time.
"It will still be important that we're focusing on reading and math, of course, but in addition to that the state wants us to move away from so much dependance on results of state assessments and other academic assessments," Hamm said, "but to look more broadly at the educational programming that we're providing."
Change is inevitable and while the district's mission and principles align strongly with the state's goals for education moving forward, a needs assessment conducted in 2015 directed Hamm to look at relationships and responsive culture as two of the main areas for the board to identify more specific goals that will help further the education of students in the school district.
Within each category, Hamm lined out different sub-sectors the board could focus on — like staff, students, families and community in the realm of relationships. Hamm asked the board if there were any particular areas the board wanted to prioritize, with several members coming back to the mission of the district and noting students should be the main focus.
"If we're student-centered, I think we're going to draw in some of these other components," said newly elected board president Carol Sue Stayrook Hobbs.
Engaging students has the potential to draw in parents as well, which seemed to be a close second behind students as far as priorities. Empowering families was suggested by more than one member as a potentially integral factor in the educational process.
"I've always had the sense that quantity and quality of parental involvement is a key component," said board member Steve Richards.
Looking at responsive culture, key areas to set potential goals included leadership, early childhood, the district climate and nutrition/wellness.
For all board members at Monday's meeting, that category had a clearer top priority, as most agreed success in that realm starts with leadership.
"I think leadership is one area where if we are rudderless, we as a district are not serving our students, families and community well," said Barbara Bunting.
Among all of the sub-sectors, though, board members saw areas in which the district could make improvements to help the overall educational experience. The idea, Hamm noted, is to hone in on one goal in each category that is both measurable and achievable in the next four to five years.
Hamm stressed that it can be a lot of work, but a key for the board is to not try to do too much, instead suggesting on highlighting areas that can have the biggest impact on education in the district looking ahead.
"What are the big items that will make a big difference that will move the district forward and not do everything?" Hamm asked.
"We're going to continue to experiment until we fine tune this," Richards added.
In other business, the USD 373 school board:
Elected Hobbs as board president for the 2017-18 school year.
Elected Richards as board vice president for the 2017-18 school year.
Appointed Joni Jantz as the board clerk (and Matt Morford as deputy clerk).
Appointed Jane Nichols as board treasurer.
Approved the consent agenda items as presented.
Approved the 2017-18 administrator and staff handbooks for Newton High School and Chisholm Middle School and student handbooks for all district schools.
Received a report from Morford on the year-end transfers. While it took longer than usual to get the final legal max number allowed for funds transferred, Morford noted most transfers were in the range of expectations for the district as projected through the budgeting process. Those funds, it was noted, help offset expenses at the start of the following school year.
Adopted numerous annual resolutions including the designation of eligible financial institutions as depositories (with Community National Bank to be added to the list), establishment of Board of Education meeting dates, times and locations and setting authority for use of district accounts and facsimile signatures, among others.
Approved Hobbs as board representative to the Harvey County Special Education Cooperative board.
Approved Richards as the board representative to KASB Governmental Relations Network (including voting rights for delegate assembly).
Tabled other representative appointments until the next board meeting.
Accepted a $10,000 donation from the Gene Haas Foundation to establish a scholarship for students attending machining, space training or engineering programs.
Accepted a donation of $2,198.13 from the Sunset Elementary PTO for heart rate monitors for PE classes at Sunset.
Approved a change in the Capital Improvement Master Plan for the Public Building Commission to provide for the design/construction of a new restroom/concession facility at Centennial Park.
Reviewed the new administrator and new teacher mentoring handbooks for 2017-2018, which will be submitted to the KSDE by the end of the week and brought back to the board for final approval.
Heard about the potential for USD 373 to participate in a new project KSDE is launching to redesign schools in seven districts across the state. Though it is very early in the process and there is little definition of the project (other than an application), Hamm said there is some interest in Newton schools. To be part of the project, it was noted 80 percent of school staff must be on board, districts must have a letter of support from the local teacher interest group and approval from the school board is also needed. No action was taken on Monday, but Hamm said she will bring the application before the board and seek a definite motion in support of the project within the next couple of weeks.
Was reminded of the new teacher breakfast coming up on Aug. 8.