Board of Administrators

The first post of this blog discussed the RFP for a Special Education Program evaluation.  This is, of course, just one of several significant issues facing the Clarkstown Central School District (CCSD).  There are two distinct reasons why this evaluation has been a topic of several posts. 

The first is that the District was identified in August as being “in need of improvement” in special education by the state of New York, which merits concern and attention.  The second is that the handling of this matter by the Board of Education indicates that some members either hold a fundamental flaw in their understanding of their roles or are deliberately exceeding their authority and interfering with district administration.  It is this second reason that attracts the attention of this blog.  Adherence to the rules starts at the top.  Failure to abide the rules calls into serious question whether the Board’s actions and decisions – or lack thereof – in this and all other matters have a legitimate basis, particularly where the usual 4-3 majority drives those decisions and actions.

Or lack thereof…
In reading the policies and procedures of the CCSD, the separation of duties between the Board and the Superintendent is rather clear.  Internal Board Operations, Article 8, Section 8220, “Responsibilities of the Board”, Paragraph 7 state that each Board member:
“…delegates action to the chief school administrator as the board executive and confines board action to policy making, planning, and appraisal:  because the chief school administrator is the executive officer for the school board, he/she must be delegated the necessary authority to administer

In the same document, Section 8310, “Methods of Operations”, unambiguously states: “The board shall concern itself primarily with broad questions of policy and with the appraisal of results, rather than with administrative details.

The By-Laws of the Board, Article 9, Section 9260, “Principles for School Board Members”, states a school board member should, among other things, “Delegate authority to the superintendent of schools as the board executive and confine board action to policy making, planning, and appraisal”.

In the District policies on Administration, Section 2620, the only restriction on the Superintendent’s use of outside consultants, other than speakers, is as follows:
In situations where knowledge and/or technical skills are needed that cannot be supplied by regular staff, the superintendent may employ special consultants and pay fees for the services of such consultants.  Such employment must have prior board approval.
OK, enough background…    
The Superintendent, as the chief executive of the District, has determined a need for outside knowledge and expertise in a specific discipline, vetted the candidate, and has been prepared to proceed.  The Board’s role should be simply to review that such an evaluation is within District policy, which it is, that the consultant is properly credentialed, which she is, and that funding has been procured, which it has.  It seems, then, that the question of the RFP for a Special Education Program Evaluation should be settled.  Yet the Board, by the usual 4-3 majority, continues to withhold approval on a matter that’s been before them for a year.

Though they keep promising a decision at the next meeting…    
The latest argument for deferring the decision is that some members now want the opportunity to meet and interview the consultant.  There is nothing at all in the District policies assigning a role to Board members in the vetting of administrative consultants, and multiple references say that they should not be involved.  As it happens, several Board members accepted an opportunity to meet the consultant and hear her presentation, a courtesy that reflects the Superintendent’s practice of transparency.  These Board members did not attend that meeting, for whatever reason, but that does not entitle them to demand additional meetings.  It is in no way a condition for Board approval. 

A previous argument made by some Board members is that the District should perform its own evaluation.  That argument has already been reviewed in a follow-up post on the matter.  The short answer is, it’s been done and continuing to do so is a bad idea. 

The follow-up post touched upon the current obstacle to approval of the Special Education evaluation, which is that some Board members seem to have determined – though their own analysis – that the problem is not in Special Education, but in general education in the elementary schools.  It is this argument that these Board members continue to offer as the reason for withholding approval of the Superintendent’s initiatives.

This is an argument that the Board members should not be making at all.  These Board members are clearly not confining themselves to “broad questions of policy”.  They are actively refusing to “delegate the necessary authority to administer” to the one qualified education professional who, according to district policies, is designated to determine where and how to address the district’s needs: Dr. Keller-Cogan.

You know, the credentialed, professional schools administrator.    
Some could say that this argument is the members' “appraisal of results”, but Board appraisals should be limited to a review of results against the goals and policies of the district.  These members are not experts in school district administration, yet they are ignoring the analysis of the district’s professional administrators in order to push their own interpretations of the data. 

Administrative actions are the Superintendent’s call and, unless those actions violate district policies, the Board should allow the Superintendent to act based upon her professional judgment and then evaluate the results of those actions.  By denying the Superintendent the authority to administer, they are actively engaged in the administration of the schools.  

Frankly, their interpretations don’t stand up to even modest scrutiny (and, of course, the scrutiny won’t be modest here).  First, the state of New York says the CCSD needs improvement in special education, so yes, there is a problem that needs to be addressed in special education.  Besides, Dr. Keller-Cogan’s goal since two years ago has been to improve the special education services, not to address a problem.  Why argue against that?

Hitting coaches, for example, aren’t consulted only when players stink.    
Second, the argument is a false choice.  Suppose for a moment that there is a problem in general elementary education.  This does not preclude the need for the special education evaluation.  If these Board members really believed there is a problem, they should be asking why an evaluation in general education has not been requested as well.  It’s not like $15,000 can only be spent on one or the other.

Third, these Board members continue to describe the state of general elementary education in the district as “failing”, calling the situation everything from “troubling” to a “crisis”.  Unless they are simply trying to divert attention away from Special Education, what is the basis for this appraisal?  Well, actually, they have not provided one, but they have repeatedly said that they are looking at the “data”, and warned that parents will be shocked when they see the results.  One must assume that they are looking at the data from the New York State Education Department that everyone can view. 

In past analyses here, the results of the English Language Arts (ELA) tests were reviewed from grades 3-8.  Not only was there no evidence of a decline in student performance, the results show an overall improvement and an increase in the performance gap among their peers.  The Board members’ analysis seems to focus on the ELA and Math results for the elementary grades 3-5.  We’re no experts either, but if they can do their own analysis, so can we.

Hey, we went to college!
The chart below shows the proficiency percentages of CCSD elementary students in the 2010 and 2011 ELA assessments.  Note that the percentage of students scoring Level 1 and 2 declined while the percentage scoring Level 3 increased significantly. 

Yes, the percentage of students scoring Level 4 also declined, but as explained in this post, that was by design in the tests and the assessments.  Similar declines were recorded throughout the state.

The next chart shows the proficiency percentages of CCSD elementary students in the 2010 and 2011 Math assessments. 

The slight declines in Levels 1,2 and 4 Math are similar to those in the ELA results.  Overall, the net percentage of students scoring at Level 3-4 proficiency increased year over year net 2.2% (69.8% to 72%) in the ELA and 0.2% (75.8% to 76%) in Math.

Wait…the numbers went UP??    
Well, they are not all up.  The charts below break down the results by grade level in the ELA and Math assessments.

Some Board members may be looking at the declines in Grade 4 ELA and Grade 4 and 5 Math as “proof” of the malaise in general education.  Well, in the ELA and Math results, Grade 3 achieved significant gains in Levels 3-4 of 3.2% and 4.7%, respectively.  This brings all grade levels to more than 70% achieving Levels 3-4.  Since this is the first time the third graders are taking the assessments, this is great news.  It is also the baseline by which all other measurements are made. 

Hey!  Here’s a fun fact.  According to the data, this is the first year that each grade level scored higher than the grade level before.  See below.

Above: Progress!
Pretty good, sure.  Yet, it is not enough to simply look at the assessment results by grade.  To measure children’s progress, one must review their year-to-year assessments as they move from one grade to the next.  Tracking student performance from grade to grade is known as the cohort, and this assesses how well the students are progressing in their education.  The following chart shows the results of the cohort in ELA and Math between 2010 and 2011.

The results of the children who took the Grade 3 assessments last year and the Grade 4 assessments this year show a 4.3% increase in the ELA results and an incredible 10.1% increase in Math.  We find the students moving from Grade 4 to Grade 5 maintaining the percentage achieving Levels 3-4 despite the much tougher assessments: 73.6% to 73.3% in the ELA and 79% to 78.5% in Math.  Simply put, students are performing significantly better or continuing to perform at high levels as they progress through their CCSD education.

So far, the shocking results promised by some Board members are not evident.  In fact, things generally look pretty good.  Perhaps they are looking at the cohort results broken down by the individual schools.  Well, let’s take a look at that in the next somewhat complex chart.

Overall, things look pretty good here, too.  The percentage of students achieving Levels 3-4 as they progress through their education is up in most cases, and significantly so in many cases.  Perhaps a little work at Little Tor and Woodglen, a tweak at some other schools and…wait, what is with Congers Elementary?

As explained by the Principal, Martha Ryan, to the Board and to parents, Congers has two unique challenges to address.  The first is that it is a transitory school, which means it receives a significant number of new students to the district who have not benefited from the CCSD curriculum and must adjust to its rigors.  The second is the challenge in meeting the needs of its significant population of…wait for it…students with disabilities

It seems many students are having difficulty in general education and could likely benefit from some specialized attention.  This is in no way a knock against Mrs. Ryan who, like every principal in the district, presented to the Board in September an action plan that she and her staff designed to address the issues with the resources that they have.  Perhaps an outside evaluator could come in and recommend ways that the district can better allocate these resources for student with disabilities, and help these principals and teachers better serve more students.

We’ve come full circle. 

Board members are prohibited from taking or deferring action to an extent that it interferes with the Superintendent’s ability and judgment to administer the district.  If the Superintendent’s intended actions are within policy guidelines, the Board members should have a defensible reason specific to the subject to withhold their support.  Such a reason has not been offered, and the continual delays imposed by some Board members on this matter border on a breach of duty.

It is unfortunate to hear residents make baseless claims that student performance is declining, and addressing those and other questions is the purpose of this blog.  It is stunning and disheartening to hear Board members make similar claims when the data – which completely contradicts them – is right in front of them.  If they cannot understand the data, they cannot make an objective and intelligent appraisal.  Not that they have to, of course, since they have received such appraisals from the district’s education professionals.  There has been no basis offered by these Board members for superseding these professional appraisals with their own.

The inability of the Board members to provide a detailed, objective basis for withholding support for this RFP, after a year of consideration, calls into question whether they have such a basis for any of their decisions with far less consideration.  The community should be greatly concerned with every action decided by the consistent 4-3 majority of this Board.

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