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School Board studies its role in district

Nov. 1, 2007

The seven-member Brown Deer School Board is examining its role by participating in a study aimed at pinpointing specific strengths and weaknesses.

The Lighthouse Project, an action-oriented program focused on the impact of a school board, stems from a 2000 project undertaken by the Iowa Association of School Boards.

According to IASB's Web site, researchers conducted nearly 160 interviews with board members and educators in high- and low-achieving districts.

Organization officials claim the discovery of several common characteristics of the high-achieving districts' policy decisions. They were based on the belief that all students can learn, community involvement is possible, clearly defined school improvement goals can be implemented and concrete data can be used to determine students' needs.

The Brown Deer board, which has just recently started its participation in Lighthouse, has been engaging in monthly meetings with District Administrator Deb Kerr and partaking in several activities, including a recent questionnaire on the current state of the board.

"I'm very excited about this project," board member Dennis Lowder said. "We've got a process here based on learning, development and education."

One topic the board has been grappling with since it began its participation in Lighthouse is its role in being an active - not passive - part of school activities.

The goal is to refrain from being an elected body that simply shuffles papers, board President Dennis Griffin said.

"I really appreciated it when board members would stop in when I was at Nicolet," said Lowder, a now-retired member of the school's faculty. "When enough of them did that, they knew what was going on in the building."

Communication between the board, administrators and faculty was identified as a key component to a district's vitality in the Iowa Lighthouse Study. Kerr in recent months has been sending out weekly overviews of what is taking place within each of Brown Deer's three schools.

"We do know what we need to focus on, and I appreciate that," board member Kathy Stresman said.

With standardized testing and number-crunching from the state Department of Public Instruction and similar organizations commonplace, statistical information is prevalent. Many board members said they felt that could be used to Brown Deer's advantage.

"We're data-rich, and we need it to make sound policy decisions," board member Gary Williams said.

Another goal of the board is to enhance community relations and an environment of trust.

Lowder said Brown Deer has long had a history of active community involvement in school-related matters, as evidenced by resident turnout each month at board meetings.

"I must say Brown Deer is very different in that regard, and I think that's very much to the positive," he said.

Williams said he frequently receives calls and e-mails from constituents on policy decisions, and he appreciates them.

Dave Fidlin can be reached at dfidlin@cninow.com or (262) 446-6603.

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