When AdvancEd, the organization that grants accreditation to school districts, visited Rock Hill in April, its experts had plenty of nice things to say.
In a brief initial report, lead evaluator John Seday spoke highly of many elements of the district, but also recommended that the school board more clearly define the roles and responsibilities of administrators and the board itself.
Now, full AdvancEd report in hand, the board has formed a committee to review district policies with the goal of increasing understanding of exactly what the school board should and shouldn’t do, chairman Jim Vining said.
“I hope this is the first step in moving toward an organization that values policies and tries to operate within the policies,” Vining said. “We’re a long way from there now.”
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The committee includes three board members, Superintendent Kelly Pew, three associate superintendents and a principal each from the elementary, middle and high schools levels, who were selected by their peers to represent their group.
In their report, the AdvancEd team said interviews with employees and reviews of documents “indicated issues in need of clarification regarding the roles and responsibilities of the governing body.” Interviews also indicated board members don’t consistently follow state guidelines or the board’s own procedures.
Part of the problem might simply be too many policies, said board vice chairman Walter Brown, a member of the policy study committee.
“A lot of these policies can be consolidated and perhaps done away with,” Brown said.
While the board hadn’t called for a policy review before hearing from the AdvancEd team, Brown said it was no secret that it was needed. Many board policies haven’t been looked at since 1998, he and Vining said.
The review will make it easier for board members to understand and adhere to policies, Brown said.
The AdvancEd report directed the district to specifically conduct a review “that establishes autonomy for administration to lead the operations of the district.”
In school board meetings, Vining has put it more bluntly: “Many people feel the board oversteps their duties.”
It was overstepping and micromanaging that led Mildred Douglas to run for the school board 14 years ago.
The policy review “will help us to stay on task and carry out the duties and responsibilities of the board,” said Douglas, a member of the study committee. “Leave the other things to the administrators.”
In the past year, Douglas identified two votes on which she believed the school board overstepped its authority:
• Stopping elementary schools from using a standards-based report card instead of the traditional A-F report card. “I have never,” Douglas said of her time on the board, “had a situation where we had gotten so involved in a report card, which is something that should have been left to administration.”
• Not buying 860 new iPads to expand the iRock program, the district’s multi-million-dollar technology initiative that aimed to get more computers into the hands of students and teachers. That also should have been left to administrators, she said.
This review might lead to reviews of all district policies, not just those that govern the board, Vining said, and the way those policies are presented to the public.
Pew has suggested that the district use a service offered by the South Carolina School Boards Association that organizes a board’s policies online in a single, easy-to-navigate website, as opposed to the confusing mix of documents that the district now has on its website.
The board also might hire an outside auditor to help clean up the district’s policies.
“This is a change in the way of doing business,” Vining said.
The process to review every single board policy will not be quick or easy, Vining said. If the committee manages to make it through all of the board policies by the end of 2014, he said, he would be pleased.