Friday, May 7, 2010

New interventions and their SBDM implications

Cindy Baumert, veteran council member and friend of the blog, asked me for some clarifications on how the new interventions in persistently low-performing schools will interact with the school-based decision making law.

For some years now, state law has said that when a school is identified for audit scrutiny, removing the council will be an option under certain circumstances.  This January, House Bill 176 sharpened the procedures for removing councils from power.  The same legislation specifies that the council's authority will be transferred to the local superintendent or the commissioner of education.

Of course, council authority is actually a list of concrete responsibilities, rather than a blanket grant of power. so there are some details to think through.  For example:
  • Policy-making is a leading part of council power.  Whoever replaces the council will be able to revise or replace current council policies, but the principal will both responsible and accountable for operating within the policies in place on a given day.
  • Vacancies at the school will be filled by the principal consulting the "council replacer" before selecting new hires, each time following the consultation policy then in effect. 
  • Principal selection will be the direct responsibility of the  "replacer" as will decisions about numbers of staff positions and selection of textbooks and instructional materials.
  • Achievement gap targets and public plans to meet them will be the responsibility of the "council replacer" as well. 
A hunch: the principal at each school will work smoothly with the superintendent and raise few questions about the SBDM issues.  However, teachers, parents, and other citizens are entitled to a coherent public record of rules and action on SBDM issues, and there may be a few hiccups in those relationships. This blogger, for example, with definitely inquire about the gap target choices when they come due.

If a principal is removed, he or she is likely to have a "continuing contract" (also known as tenure) and be legally entitled to another position within the district.  Occasionally, the district will have a suitable position in the central office or at a school without a council, and giving the ex-principal that job is a way to obey the tenure law without breaking the SBDM law.  Often, that won't be true, and either tenure or SBDM will have to give way.  Since the early 1990s, there has been broad agreement that it is acceptable to break the SBDM law in that rare "law versus law" type of conflict.

The same analysis will apply to other tenured teachers if the intervention decision displaces them.  For councils with vacancies, that effectively means that some openings will be filled by someone not chosen by the principal and not chosen after consultation.

At the ten schools subject to the new interventions, at least seven councils have been found too weak to lead the needed changes--and we don't yet know the fate of the other three.

All those council members should have learned their roles from KDE-endorsed trainers. SBDM training quality is a Frankfort responsibility, and I hope there is already a Frankfort-based quality improvement strategy. What is the Department's plan for those trainers and their future work?  Will there be added support and scrutiny for trainers whose trainees have fallen so far short

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