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Kanawha County's school board's self-assessment ranks lower than state average

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia School Board Association is encouraging Kanawha County education leaders to use results of a recent self-assessment to focus on problematic areas and to inspire more goals.

Every county school board in the state is required by law to participate in the annual self-evaluation, which studies 15 indicators such as leadership, influencing others and board development.

While Kanawha County school board members did not assess themselves as "not very effective" in any category, they ranked themselves slightly lower than other counties in all but one category: policy development.

Kanawha's lowest rankings, when compared to averages across other counties, were in the categories "communications" and "parents and community involvement."

The county ranked itself highest for its decision-making.

"It appears that our peers evaluated themselves slightly higher in nearly every other category. So either we're too critical or we have some work to do," said board member Robin Rector.

But, West Virginia School Board Association Executive Director Howard O'Cull said it's important to focus less on the comparison to other counties and more on the specific answers to the survey's questions.

"Because it is a self-assessment, there are limitations and a lot is left up for interpretation. The best thing to do is focus on those broad areas you have scored the lowest on and work within that," O'Cull told members of the school board during a special session Monday. "Whether this will be of any good and come to great fruition depends on your board and how you choose to use the information. It's a tool that you can really use for some good work."

O'Cull said with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's statewide public education audit, and with more school systems taken over by the state than anywhere else in the country, assessments like this one are crucial.

"There is a lot of discussion nationally, and particularly in West Virginia, about the role of school boards, and we're entering into that with the audit. There will be quite a bit of discussion about the viability and the very nature of school boards and the nature of local governance. We are ahead of the curve with this," he said.

"Stakes are higher now. A big part of this was to get everyone to come to the altar to see where they are and maybe, as a result, avoid state takeovers because we are persistently looking at performance."

Rector pushed for action to be taken on the assessment's results.

"I believe in school boards, but I know we're under threat. This gives us the opportunity to take on that kind of business perspective to explain better to folks what it is we do and what our value is," she said. "We need to spend more time looking at these areas, and I'd like to see an action step coming out of here."

One of those steps could be the better promotion of county goals to improve schools, Rector said.

"I'm not sure that we have strong, verbally expressed goals. We have them, we want to strengthen facilities and increase WESTEST scores. But do we verbalize those and put them out there for others to communicate and see? I'm not sure," she said.

The results of counties' self-assessments will contribute to the development of statewide standards for highly functional county school boards, as set by the state School Board Association.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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