VBOE doesn’t approve Franklin CAP

Published 11:08 am Wednesday, November 26, 2014

For the third time, the Virginia Board of Education did not pass Franklin City Public School Division’s Corrective Action Plan, which is part of the Memorandum of Understanding they were placed under by the board following a division-level review that took place in the 2013-2014 school year.

The corrective action plan first came up in April, and the state board wanted to host a public hearing in Franklin to make sure community members had a chance to receive feedback.

“We did that because the local board had come back, and they said they held a public hearing and no one came, which defied any logic and common sense to us,” Christian Braunlich, VBOE board president, told Superintendent Willie Bell on Thursday.

Following that, they had a final reading in June, where the board conditionally approved the CAP under the stipulation that the new division superintendent, who had not yet started, would be able to play a role in amending it to address the concerns at the public hearing VBOE hosted on May 14. It was to be approved by the Franklin City School Board and presented to VBOE on Nov. 20.

Bell set up an advisory council facilitated by a consultant, Michelle Hairston. The advisory council had subcommittee members in each of the four areas outlined by VBOE: Curricula Alignment; Human Resource Management and Quality of Leadership, Teachers and Support; Purpose and Direction; and Leadership and Governance. The advisory council is made up of teachers, building administrators, central office administrators, parents, students, community members, business partners and members of faith-based organizations.

Franklin’s board had a public hearing after this process was completed on Oct. 17 and later approved the CAP in advance of submitting it to VBOE.

However, board member Diane Atkinson said the corrective action plan, as presented, had some deficiencies.

“The current plan is at the 5,000-foot view,” she said. “But we were more interested in understanding the plans you have for meeting the objectives and the metrics you would use and how that will inform you to make adjustments, if necessary, to the strategy.”

The CAP should focus on two to three data points per goal. It should also center on showing how the division will go from where Franklin was during the division-level review, to where it wants to be in terms of student achievement. It needs to include the academic targets and whether they have been accomplished or not.

“I think you have articulated goals and have set objectives,” Atkinson said. “But what we need to see are the incremental steps that must be achieved to meet those objectives.”

With the incremental steps, also comes a timeline for achieving those steps. at the end of each goal, the board wants it to be clearly labeled with data points for what constitutes achieving one of the objectives. And if you can’t meet them, how to determine changes needed to make in order to meet the goals.

“After yesterday, where you were talking to us about the growth that you have seen, ultimately in my mind, you have a trajectory, I’m sure, for your students related to academic process,” Atkinson said. “Looking at the last nine weeks, you have to be on a certain point in the trajectory. Are you there? And if not, what are you going to do and what changes are you going to make to help you get to the point where you need to be? That’s ultimately what we want to focus on.”

During the school improvement work session on Wednesday, Bell had talked about the growth that Franklin had seen since he had been there.

Braunlich was also hesitant to call it a success at this point.

“Let me just say that by all indications you have been very out there and engaged in the community and have become the face of the Franklin City Public School system, and that is an important and critical first step,” he said. “But let me also say that after four months, nobody expects you to have turned the ship around. What we do hope to see is a clear understanding that the ship is running into some problems.”

Braunlich said he fully expects superintendents to tell them where their school systems are strong, yet he also wants to hear where they are weak and why they are in that position. Yet, after every question during the work session, Bell gave the board nothing but positive remarks about where the system is with little data to back it up.

“What is really troublesome to me, and I think other board members, is when the captain of that ship is telling people to ignore that iceberg — it is just a new way of delivering cocktails,” Braunlich said with a laugh. “This is important stuff.”

In the end, the board president said the data Bell is using to make these judgements will be made available to VBOE, and they will judge it.

“I don’t doubt that there have been improvements,” Braunlich said. “Simply the act of a new person coming on leads to some improvements. But for us to conclude that there has been substantial improvement, we are going to need to see very clear and hard data to justify that.”

Braunlich recommended that Bell go back and watch the Virginia Board of Education meetings that led up to this issue over the past school year. During those meetings, the previous superintendent and FCPSB Chair Edna King told them that everything was addressed.

“I think it will give you a really good indication of the debt of concern that the board has, and the extent to which we will drill down into the data and ask what is happening here,” he said.

Dr. Billy K. Cannaday Jr., a member of VBOE, added to Braunlich’s comments on trying to sugarcoat problems.

“When you are helping people to understand, telling them the truth doesn’t mean you are a pessimist,” he said. “You can’t change what you can’t acknowledge is a problem.”

If you are serious about changing, Cannaday said you have to be honest about where you are and use it as point one to get to the point you want to be at.

“Be honest with your staff,” he said. “If they are looking through rose-colored glasses, they will disappoint you, and more importantly, they will disappoint your children.”

Joan Wodiska said the Virginia Board of Education is with them.

“This board is committed to sharing and celebrating success,” she said. “But we too will bear the weight of responsibility if this doesn’t work.

“If there is anything that this board can do, that [Supt. of Public Instruction] Dr. [Steven] Staples can do or the staff, it is totally in our collective best interest for you to raise a hand and say, ‘Hey, I need help.’ I know you can’t do this on your own. Don’t feel that the totality is on you solely. But that as a leader, your candor, courage and humility are going to allow success to occur by asking for help if you need it.”

During Wednesday’s work session, King, vice-chair Will Councill, Nancy Godwin, Andrea Hall-Leonard, Sherita Ricks-Parker and Jeanette Austin were all in attendance. They also attended a Virginia School Board Association meeting in the area for professional development on Thursday.

VBOE will again hear from Franklin in a final reading of the corrective action plan in January.