“Everyone who runs for a school board seat believes they are doing it to make a difference,” says Karen Starchvick, school board chair in the 6,000-student Medford Public Schools.
But what happens when good intentions are thwarted by a failure to focus or cooperate? How can a school board work as a team to make sure it is making the right choices to support equity for kids?
Chalkboard Project’s school board governance and equity initiative aims to support school boards in rising to the challenge. Piloted in the Corvallis and Medford school districts, the initiative aims to train board members to better understand their role and to align their work as leaders in shaping policy.
Last fall board members from the pilot districts met for what participants describe as a “transformational” training with Chalkboard in conjunction with the Center for Reform of School Systems.
The session focused on ways board members can be more strategic in their work. They discussed topics such as how to use data more effectively, and smarter strategies for budget and policy making.
“The message that really broke through for me was the idea that the board has to focus on the bigger picture strategy without getting bogged down in the details by trying to tell the superintendent how to run things,” says Vincent Adams, the school board chair in the 7,000-student Corvallis School District.
Much of the discussion revolved around education equity and what boards can do to close achievement gaps impacting students of color and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The dialogue was especially critical given that most board members in the pilot, as in the state, were white.
“We needed to look at ourselves and ask some tough questions,” Adams says. “Going through the training was a galvanizing moment for many of us when it comes to systemic racism and discrimination, and the importance of shifting consciousness about equity and focusing on changing those systems.”
Corvallis has a reputation as a prosperous community, Adams adds, but not everyone is prospering.
“We have an image of ourselves that everything is fine, but we’ve glossed over some of the problems many families face,” Adams says. When he addresses community groups and notes that one-third of students are economically disadvantaged and describes the challenges many of those children deal with, such as being homeless and having to sleep outdoors, “people are shocked, and that’s the point.”
Both Corvallis and Medford believe that embracing equity strategies is the only way to make an impact.
Medford’s board, for example, is expanding non-academic pathways, such as extracurricular activities and career/technical programs to engage students in school and keep them on track to graduate. Insights gained through the Chalkboard pilot has imbued that work with stronger purpose and momentum as the board prioritizes policies and funding to support the superintendent’s plans.
“We have so much more focus—we’re not going out in a million different directions,” Starchvick says. “We were making progress before, but now we’re able to accelerate towards our goals.”
Both Medford and Corvallis have been exemplary districts in which to implement the pilot thanks to dynamic, supportive superintendents and the addition of new voices recently elected to the boards.
"The school board governance and equity initiative is proving to be a meaningful and targeted professional development opportunity for board leaders who are charged with policy development for our school districts across the state,” says Erin Prince, vice president of educational policy at Chalkboard. “There are few trainings that can point to deep collaboration, co-creation, and transformational policy development based on local context that this initiative is providing. It is truly inspiring."
The Chalkboard initiative continued its work with another training with the Medford and Corvallis board in February, designed to build on the accomplishments that came out of the first session. Meanwhile, Chalkboard intends to roll out the initiative to more districts this year pending additional philanthropic/private funding.
- School Leadership
- Student Success
- Equity and Diversity