The Charter School Board’s Role in Remote Learning

The Charter School Board’s Role in Remote Learning

With the new school year nearly here, schools nationwide are finalizing plans to meet student’s academic and non-academic needs amid the evolving pandemic.

Charter school boards, CEOs, and staff must work together to grapple with major questions about how or if to welcome kids back into the buildings this fall and what their programming will look like through the 2020-21 school year.

The board is the first line of accountability. The board must be able to identify and deal with any issues in your educational program, operations, or finances well in advance. That hasn’t changed. But how you meet the goals in each of these areas, especially academically, has changed.

To help define the board’s role in remote learning, we invited Kim Perron, president of SchoolWorks, to co-host a Continuity Coaching session on the topic.

Read on to get the highlights. And access the replay and additional resources here

Your board can [and should] contribute to the remote learning program.

Board members have a moral and legal responsibility to serve their students to the best of their ability. 

With or without clear guidance from your state or authorizer, you are responsible for ensuring that your school and your school leadership team meet the student’s needs and deliver on charter promises.

The board’s approval of your remote learning plan is a symbolic gesture and a legal action. It demonstrates your commitment to your school community and your student’s ongoing learning. It says: we stand behind this; we’re going to ensure the resources to implement it; we’re going to hold the management team accountable to deliver it. 

Your board approves the plan. It doesn’t create the plan.

As vital as the board’s role in this work, it’s particularly fraught with the risk of overstepping directly into the role of the CEO’s — or the management team’s — responsibilities here.  

The board focuses on results. The management decides how to get those results. 

The board will define the results you want to see from your remote learning program. The management team will design a plan to get those results. The board will, ultimately, approve the plan.

At a minimum, build consensus on the big picture. Not all boards have the capacity, time, or expertise to be highly involved in remote learning planning and process. 

Come to a consensus on your goals, mission, values, and priorities. With that, the CEO and their team can work out the details and implementation, knowing they’re in alignment with the board.

But, for boards willing and able to take a more active role [and we recommend that you do], here’s our advice.

Establish a committee to take the lead on your remote learning plan. 

Be thoughtful about what representative participation will look like on your committee. To have a variety of stakeholders represented, you’ll likely need to aim for five to ten members. 

The school leadership team includes senior staffers covering academics, operations, finance, and the CEO. 

For board representation, including perspectives from the Academic Excellence Committee and the Finance Committee.

A member of the Academic Excellence Committee will know your programs well enough to help see opportunities or challenges. They can help inform school leadership’s decision-making. And they’ll serve as a conduit for communication back to the board, helping with buy-in and approval.

The Finance Committee will bring in that board-level perspective early on, for what you’ll need to implement your plan — whether it’s people, finances, or even donations of materials.

You might also include some champions representing your school’s community. These non-board members — like teachers, parents, and students — can help evangelize your work. However, a word of caution here. In our experience, involving these champions can be complex. Read our advice about including community stakeholders on your board first.

What if your board doesn’t yet have the right committees in place?

Boards who already had the right active committees were a bit more prepared to govern through the initial crisis and well into our new reality,

If your board doesn’t have those committees, get started now. 

Establish an Academic Excellence Committee and a Finance Committee. Set a goal to have those two committees established and functioning as soon as possible.

Provide sound financial oversight to ensure the resources to implement the plans you approve.

First, understand what resources the school leadership will need to implement their plan — both in the immediate and longer term. 

Proactively providing sound financial oversight will be critical to supporting the leadership in building learning plans they can deliver.

Use evidence-based thinking. Get creative to understand what the problems are, prioritize those issues, and allocate resources accordingly. For instance: Whether it’s teachers or investment of resources and textbooks and other things akin to a brick and mortar school that maybe wouldn’t be necessary for the future, or maybe you’ll devise new systems to work around where you don’t need those resources anymore.

Get our guidance for providing sound financial oversight for charter school boards amid the coronavirus pandemic

Build accountability into your remote learning plan from the start.

Don’t wait for your authorizer or community to hold you accountable.

Remember to think of your state’s expectations as the minimum. Charter schools aim for a high bar. They exceed those minimum expectations. 

Your metrics will demonstrate that you fulfilled your responsibility as a board to ensure kids have continued to learn during these challenging circumstances. 

The right metrics will ensure the ability to demonstrate to your authorizer that, in this unprecedented time, you took responsibility for your kids’ learning and got results. 

Even as authorizers continue their oversight responsibilities in our new reality, there’s likely to be a gap year in quantitative evidence of school performance or student performance. 

Still, having a remote learning plan of the right caliber will inevitably generate opportunities for the board to collect qualitative data about what their school and students are doing.

Academic excellence metrics for remote learning will be different than what your board is used to. The focus is more on the learning outcomes than on the time spent.   

In the absence of traditional metrics, like standardized tests, board members can look to metrics that demonstrate kids’ engagement in the online learning platforms, teachers’ activities in connecting with kids, and the products of kids’ learning.

You might monitor log-ins to the software you’re using for learning. Your teachers might create logs of text or phone communications with kids. Or you might gather portfolios of student work products that you can show to your authorizer. 

And in addition to your own school’s data, seek benchmarking data for comparison. See what your peers are doing. See what other great charter school boards are doing.  

Maintain an open dialog about what’s working. We’ve seen that developing successful remote-based education isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. It takes a phased approach. The board, CEO, and senior staff will need to maintain an open dialog about the evidence that will measure the success of each phase, the board’s role in asking for that data, and your approach to learning from and acting on that data.

Seek success stories and leading indicators. Look for early signs of what’s not working as intended, unexpected patterns emerging, and opportunities to pivot. Identify those things, discuss them, and ask your CEO what’s needed to address them. Maybe it’s more Chromebooks or better wifi access. You’re there to ask the right questions and to help the CEO and leadership team problem-solve.

A key question to monitor will be how to support struggling kids. Whether they need academic support or help with more social/emotional challenges or access to the right tools.

Get our advice on the board’s role in data-driven academic excellence oversight

Use caution. It’s still early to demand data proving how a program works. Everybody’s practicing new skills, including teaching and learning, in a very different manner. 

As we move forward, your board can seek increasing reporting levels for a deeper understanding of the results of your evolving academic program. 

Maintain a focus on the vision and goals that form your foundation. 

The method through which you may achieve your goals has shifted. But your school’s educational goals haven’t changed.

Boards must lead in setting expectations for their schools, partnering with their CEOs, and supporting their communities.

Focus on proactively getting out in front of the effects of the changing circumstances this pandemic is bringing your families. Focus on leading with high expectations for kids while maintaining the school’s values. 

We know this work is not easy. We celebrate your resilience in making it happen for the kids counting on your schools. 

Stay connected. Ask a lot of questions. We’re all trying to figure these things out together. No one has the perfect answer. Tap into the tools, resources, and teams that BoardOnTrack and Schoolworks offer. And let us know how else we can help you.

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