2016 Outstanding Board superintendents. He says the committee was impressed by the board’s focused support for educational improvement projects, for school transformation initiatives and for improving academic performance. The committee also noted the board’s commitment to a code of ethics and to ensuring that every step taken was for the students. “What set Lancaster ISD apart from the other finalists was the tremendous obstacles they have overcome, and how that turnaround would not have been possible without the full commitment of each board member,” says Ealy. He also offers accolades to the four other finalists for their good governance and working together on behalf of all students. The 2016 Honor Boards are Denver City ISD, Region 17; Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD, Region 11; Robstown ISD, Region 2; and Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City, Region 20. The Outstanding Board and Honor Boards were recognized on Sept. 24 at the TASA/TASB Convention in Houston. “Other school districts have faced similar obstacles, but Lancaster was able to overcome them,” Ealy says. “They did so because the board members did what it took to make needed changes, including hiring a strong superintendent leader.” Starting about five years ago, the board reached a mutual understanding of the need to make changes and demonstrate its commitment to making improvements. “We knew we needed more stability and a clear vision,” says board President Ty G. Jones. This awareness led to a laser focus on student achievement. Now, when the board examines the budget, the trustees are guided by what “touches our students,” Jones says. “The majority of our budget — 80 percent — goes toward students.” To reach this goal, Jones, who joined became a trustee in 2011, knew the board needed to align itself with the district’s Vision 2020. Trustee retreats were organized to do this visioning work. These retreats also gave the board an opportunity to understand how each member perceives the issues and how they can work together more effectively. “The board members had a conversation about how to treat each other,” says Superintendent Michael McFarland.
“They’re really committed to behaving in ways to alleviate some of the unnecessary disagreements.” Adds Jones: “We follow the three Rs on the board — reading, which ties into us being as knowledgeable as we can; relational capacity, so that we act as one unit, one family; and reflection, where we consistently reflect on whether it’s working and make changes as we progress.” The board also began soliciting feedback from parents about what they want their children to know — and skills they want their children to acquire — by the time they graduate from high school. More focus also was placed on external communication campaigns to ensure all stakeholders understand what the school board and district as a whole are doing to improve student achievement. “No one can tell our story better than we can,” says Jones. And it’s a story worth telling. Lancaster ISD has gained firm financial footing, has seen improvement in math and science scores on assessments, and experienced enrollment growth. “People are moving back to the district,” says Jones, noting that Lancaster ISD is now ranked near the top in the region. The board has been invited to present its success story at regional summer leadership academies; at the National School Board Association in Boston, Mass.; at a National Alliance of Black School Educators meeting; and at TASA state conferences for the past three years. To develop student interest in math and science, the superintendent and board have built partnerships with local industry, such as Texas Instruments. McFarland points out it’s not as much about grooming future engineers as it is about training students to “think critically, like engineers.” Toward that end, K-12 teachers are incorporating group problem-solving and project-based learning into their lesson plans. “This changes the entire instructional framework,” says McFarland. “We want to demystify the field. What we’re doing is about ensuring students leave with more than a high school diploma, so they can have self-sustaining success.” The district also now provides math and
'What set Lancaster ISD apart from the other finalists was the tremendous obstacles they have overcome, and how that turnaround would not have been possible without the full commitment of each board member.' science teachers with tuition to earn a master’s degree from the University of North Texas. “It’s a retention tool,” explains McFarland. In turn, the district can leverage those teachers to offer professional development to their colleagues. Despite the district’s progress and success, Ealy notes the board’s humility. “While the team of eight was proud of their accomplishments and the lengths they have come in the past seven years, they were resolute that they still have more work to do,” he says. Adds Superintendent McFarland, who nominated his board for the award: “When we can work together, regardless of the challenges we face, we can accomplish great things.” Since 1971, TASA has recognized Texas school boards that demonstrate dedication to student achievement and put students first. Each year, during the convention, committee members interview the finalists. Criteria for selection include support for educational performance, support for educational improvement projects, commitment to a code of ethics, and maintenance of harmonious and supportive relationships among board members. MERRI ROSENBERG is a former freelance education columnist and reporter for The New York Times. She covers education for national and regional publications.
Texas School Business NOVEMBER/DECEMBER