The Columbus Municipal School District Board of Trustees evaluated its performance during a Saturday meeting, settling on goals of emphasizing better meeting decorum, promoting greater involvement from the public and having greater assessment of staff attitudes and district programs.
Prior to the meeting, board members reviewed the board’s performance — how it works as a team; its relationship with CMSD Superintendent Dr. Philip Hickman and the community; and the development of each board member. During Saturday’s meeting, board members discussed their findings before deciding upon goals for the year.
“We know it’s very important to take time out and evaluate ourselves,” board president Angela Verdell said. “It can be very difficult to be an effective body if we ourselves don’t know how we can do better.”
The board also reviewed board attorney David Dunn, who was not present — concluding that he “meets or exceeds expectations.”
A review of Hickman, who also was not present, was conducted during an executive session at the end of the meeting.
Board member Jason Spears was the only board member not present during the evaluations, which are required annually by the Mississippi School Boards Association. No members of the public were in attendance.
Areas for improvement
The board began in agreement that it “keeps the education and welfare of students as their primary concern.”
“I’d say we’re doing good with that,” Verdell said.
Board member Currie Fisher contested the next statement, that the board is “open and honest with each other, as well as administrators, and is able to maintain an attitude of mutual trust and respect.” Fisher said that she had put her checkmark in between the two choices of “doing well” and “needing to improve.”
Board member Glenn Lautzenhiser concluded he, too, had doubts about this particular statement.
“If we had a third category I would have checked that,” he said.
Verdell addressed the members, concluding that, if there were issues, they had not hindered them from being an effective board.
Fisher also took issue with another of the statements, that the board “represents the interests of the entire district rather than special interest groups.” She said there had been certain situations where it appeared as though there was influence from outside interest, and that it had affected discussion, as well as board member votes.
“I think we need to look at that and be cognizant that the appearance is there, the perception is there,” Fisher said, adding it was the board’s quality of discussion she was most concerned about.
The board concluded it needed to improve the following points: that the board “realizes that independent decisions or commitments on the board’s behalf are improper;” that each member “is polite during board meetings, listens carefully and is respectful of each other as well as school personnel;” that the board “comes to meetings prepared to focus on discussion issues and keep comments relevant and brief;” and that the board “is concerned about achieving results rather than giving a good appearance.”
In creating the goal of “emphasizing good meeting decorum,” Verdell determined it could be all encompassing in addressing such issues of mutual respect and other issues.
Fisher suggested that the goal be stated each meeting in some way or another.
“Even if it’s on the agenda packet, some kind of information shared with the board or the general public,” she said. “We need to be reminded every board meeting, what’s expected as far as good decorum.”
The goal also was directed at the board’s relationship with Hickman, including whether it “avoids interference with the superintendent’s duties,” or “works together in a spirit of mutual trust and respect.” Fisher and board member Stephen Jones both said there had been a few instances where there was conflict with such statements.
“I think it goes back not particularly to the board but to these individual things that have happened,” said Jones, adding that he has seen improvement over the past few months. “If that continues then we’re going in the right direction.”
As far as staff relations, the board determined that there was need for a policy that would address staff attitudes. It determined that Hickman should provide a recommendation for the policy that the board would then review and provide feedback before approving. Whether it would be a quarterly or biannual review was not determined.
For the board’s third goal, to further promote the involvement of administrators, teachers, staff, students, parents and community members in the development of its policies — Verdell reminded that the board is already required by law to do so.
“There is no policy needed because we already have a policy,” she said.
However, some suggestions, like soliciting input online, were made in looking to make an even greater effort to let such stakeholders know their input is valued.
The board was unsure if there was already a policy in place addressing its fourth goal, that “the board should have programs evaluated on a timely basis.”
“I’m sure there’s some kind of policy, but need to evaluate if we have one,” Verdell said. “If not the policy would be to create a policy, that would address evaluating all programs. If we do have policy, then the goal becomes to evaluate all programs, and there has to be some kind of time frame.”
The board’s next scheduled meeting begins at 6 p.m. on Feb. 7 at the Brandon Central Office.
Sam Luvisi is news editor and covers education for The Dispatch.
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