Finalizing a facilities master plan -- and convincing voters to authorize school bonds to pay for new and upgraded facilities -- was at the top of the list as the Moore County Board of Education met in a goal-setting work session on Thursday, August 29.
Turning to other matters near the end of that meeting, Board members voted to cancel a joint meeting with the Moore County Board of Commissioners that had been scheduled for Thursday, September 5..
Vague Objectives for Joint Meeting
The joint meeting, which was originally suggested by School Board Chairman Ed Dennison to Commissioners Chairman Nick Picerno, was supposed to focus on finances, facilities, and Moore County Schools' [MCS] digital learning initiative.
But some School Board members felt that neither the agenda nor the School Board's objectives for the meeting had been well defined.
"I don't think we have had time to discuss what we want the outcome of that meeting to be," Kathy Farren said. "I don't think we are ready to go into the meeting."
"I don't think our objectives and the County's objectives for the meeting mesh," Laura Lang agreed.
Dennison noted that the idea for the joint meeting came up just before the regular August School Board meeting, leaving little opportunity for the Board to discuss the agenda and objectives.
Dennison told The Times that the two Boards had also not agreed on whether staff members would be participants in the meeting.
"They wanted it to include just the members of the two Boards," Dennison said. "We always want to have [MCS Superintendent Aaron] Dr. Spence present and participating."
Farren made the motion to cancel the meeting, which was approved unanimously by the members present. Charles Lambert and Dale Frye were not in attendance.
Winning approval for school bonds
The Board settled on three key goals for the coming year, focused on facilities, advocacy for public education, and strategic planning. These are goals for the Board itself to accomplish, as opposed to systemwide goals for the schools. Those are laid out in the MCS strategic plan.
The Board is already well along in the process of developing a master facilities plan, having commissioned research on the state of MCS facilities and the cost of school upgrades and replacements. They have settled on three options that will be presented to the public for input during meetings expected to take place in September and October.
Based on that input, a plan will be finalized, a budget developed, and a request for a bond referendum sent to the Board of Commissioners.
Each Board goal has associated strategies and action steps, and Farren succinctly summarized the strategies that fall under facilities: "Having our community meetings. Deciding what we are going to build. Passing our bond."
"The goal is to provide a better education," Board Member Bruce Cunningham said.
The Board decided not to get bogged down in crafting the exact wording of each goal during the work session, instead asking Superintendent Spence to "wordsmith" the document for final Board approval at a later date.
Working on the fly, Spence crafted a draft of the Board's goal on facilities: "Finalize facilities master plan and gain support for facilities construction by increasing the community's understanding of and getting feedback on the school system's facilities needs and challenges as they relate to student learning."
Standing up for public education
Noting that the Board had approved in its last meeting a resolution critical of the General Assembly's 2013-2014 education budget, Cunningham suggested that a Board goal should be to "stand up for public education."
"I think the teachers appreciate the support from the board," he said.
Dennison suggested "Be strong advocates for our students and employees" as a possible wording.
Spence wrote: "Continue to be strong advocates for public education, our teachers, students, and staff" on the draft document.
Lang noted that Board Member Charles Lambert had suggested that the Board take up the issue of providing local teacher supplements to help counteract the cuts to teacher pay made at the state level. The Board agreed that investigating supplements could be an action step under the general goal.
Turning to a more immediate opportunity, Board members also discussed the possibility of participating in a Moral Monday event, focused on education, planned for September 9 in Southern Pines.
Updating the Strategic Plan
Facilitator Trogdon brought up the issue of strategic planning, noting that "a major part of the Board's responsibility is to periodically develop a strategic plan . . . to involve the community in developing measurable objectives for the school district and related strategies."
Superintendent Spence noted that the current MCS strategic plan expires this year, so an update is due.
The Board agreed to take "develop and adopt a strategic plan" as a third goal.
Spence suggested that the new plan should include more measurable indicators of success than are available in the current plan. He said having metrics enables both superintendent and staff to measure their own progress -- as well as giving MCS a way of demonstrating success to the broader community.
That suggestion met with some skepticism from Cunningham and Enola Lineberger.
"Sometimes when you focus on things that can be measured, you lose sight of the ineffable things that can't be measured," Lineberger said. "Some of it is impossible to measure."
"The dilemma for me is how to know that we are meeting the objectives," Spence said.
The Board asked Spence to provide examples of metrics and measurements used by other districts.
Three big goals is enough
Last year, the Board took on five goals, but the size and complexity of the goals set for 2013-2014 convinced them that three was enough.
"I have a problem with adding more goals," Board Member Lang said. "Our goal on facilities is huge. The strategic plan is going to be huge. I don't want us to water down our goals, so we can concentrate on the ones that are huge."
Board members agreed that some of the unfinished action steps left over from last year's goals could find a place under the three new goals for 2013-2014.
Lineberger said she wanted to be sure the public understood that the Board was not abandoning the goals they set last year. Many of the action steps have been accomplished, she said, others have become part of the Board's standard operating process, and others will be rolled over into the new goals.
The School Board's 2012-2013 Goals, as well as those from the previous year, are available on the MCS website. Also available is a video of the Thursday, August 29 Work Session, as well as past School Board meetings.