“Governance and leadership in the Morgan County School System”
Story By: Ralph Bennett
assistant superintendent for teaching and learning
“SACS Standard 2: The Morgan County School system provides governance and leadership that promote student performance and system effectiveness."
Studies of school systems suggest that effective systems engage in similar practices that greatly contribute to their success. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council for Accreditation and School Improvement, better known as SACS, has used this research to develop the standards of operation for systems. As the Morgan County School System prepares for its initial district accreditation visit, a school system goal is to ensure that everyone who has an interest in the school system understands these standards and the school system’s efforts to meet and exceed these standards.
Several activities serve as indicators of compliance with Standard 2, Governance and Leadership. A system is successful in meeting this standard when it has leaders who promote the system’s vision and improvement efforts that support this shared vision. System leaders ensure that policies, procedures, and organizational conditions provide equitable learning opportunities. System leaders have clearly defined authority and responsibility to move toward the shared vision. System leaders promote and facilitate collaboration and shared responsibility among stakeholders for system improvement.
The process for the effective operation of the system and its schools begins with the Morgan County Board of Education and the Superintendent. The Morgan County Board of Education is charged by law with the responsibility of the administration and operation of all schools of the Morgan County School District. The Morgan County School System has an elected school board consisting of five members. It is the policy-making body for the school system. As such, the Board of Education is concerned with general policies in the operation of its schools as distinguished from the rules and regulations of internal administration of the school system and of individual schools.
The Morgan County Board of Education believes that the legislation of policies is its most important function, and that the execution of the policies should be the function of the Superintendent. The Board delegates authority and provides freedom for the Superintendent to manage the schools within the Board’s policies freeing the Board to devote its time to policy-making and appraisal functions. The Board holds the Superintendent responsible for carrying out its policies within established guidelines and for keeping the Board informed about school operations.
Georgia law requires the announcement and publication of all pending policies. In order to comply with state law, the school system posts monthly board agendas and proposed policies prior to board meetings. The board tables pending policies that it supports for 30 days for public comment, in accordance with Georgia law. After the 30-day public comment period, the board reviews the pending policy, along with any public comment, and makes the decision to approve, reject or revise the proposed policy.
The Morgan County Board of Education seeks to ensure the creation of policies and implementation of procedures which ensure equity of learning opportunities and support for innovation. Morgan County Board of Education Policy JAA, Equal Educational Opportunities, provides for equal educational opportunity and provides guidelines for filing complaints in cases where inequities are perceived. In addition, the Morgan County School System seeks to comply with all federal and state laws pertaining to equitable educational opportunities. In that light, Title IIA of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires that all students, including poor and minority, have equitable opportunities with respect to quality instruction, teachers’ instructional experience, class size, and teachers’ ability to meet the diverse learning needs of all students. The Morgan County School System conducts an annual assessment to determine the needs of the school system related to the qualifications (i.e., credentials, experience, and training) of teaching staff to provide students with quality instruction toward meeting state standards. In doing so, the Morgan County School System uses the information gathered in the development of a comprehensive plan to help ensure equity of opportunity for all students.
With the accountability requirements of No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, system leadership must evaluate system effectiveness through data-driven, research-based practices. The Georgia Department of Education has developed process standards, the School Keys, which address effective practices in eight areas: curriculum; instruction; assessment; planning and organization; student, family and community support; professional learning; leadership; and, school culture. These process standards have been incorporated into the system strategic plan and speak to those effective, research-based processes that adults engage in to ensure high levels of student learning. The School Keys align to the SACS standards and are recognized by SACS as an effective improvement process. Most school systems engage in some process of analyzing their success in each of the eight strands of the School Keys. To facilitate this analysis, the Georgia Assessment of Performance on School Standards (GAPSS) Analysis provides a process of data collection and verification of a school’s status and offer specific direction for improvement in relation to the School Keys. The Morgan County School System has engaged in the GAPSS Analysis process for the last three years.
A number of opportunities exist for stakeholders to provide leadership, to contribute to the decision-making process, and to participate in the continuous improvement process. At the system-level there are four primary groups identified: The Principals’ Council, the Instructional Leadership Council, the Superintendent’s Parent Advisory and Superintendent’s Teacher Advisory Councils. The Principals’ Council is led by the superintendent and composed of the five building principals in the school system as well as other central office staff. This group provides leadership and makes decisions on a wide range of issues related to the operation of the school system and its schools. The Instructional Leadership Council is co-chaired by the assistant superintendents and includes the instructional supervisors from each school, the Instructional Technology Specialist for the system, and teachers from each of the schools. This group focuses primarily on the curricular and instructional issues facing the school system and its schools. The Superintendent’s Parent Advisory Council and Superintendent’s Teacher Advisory Councils are both led by the superintendent and are composed of 30 parents and 16 teachers, respectively. Both groups have contributed to the decision-process as well as providing stakeholder perspective on issues.
The visiting SACS team will be examining a variety of indicators to determine the Morgan County School System’s compliance with Standard 2. A school system is considered highly effective in meeting Standard 2, Governance and Leadership, when it has leaders who are advocates for the system’s vision and improvement efforts. A school system is considered highly effective when its policies, procedures, and organizational conditions ensure equity of learning opportunities and are deeply embedded in the way the system and its schools function. A school system is considered highly effective when its leaders ensure collaboration and shared responsibility for system and school improvement among stakeholders with clearly defined expectations for each stakeholder group. A school system is considered highly effective when its leaders provide stakeholders meaningful roles in the decision-making process that promote a culture of participation, responsibility, and ownership. Just as we hold high expectations for students and teachers in the school system, stakeholders in the Morgan County School System should hold high expectations that the system leadership will meet and exceed the standard set by SACS under Governance and Leadership.
Published in the January 1, 2009 edition.