School board policies are an important guide to how the district should be run. Reviewing and updating those policies should not be allowed to slide.
Although it may often seem that administrators are primarily in control of running the Lawrence school district, that job actually belongs to the members of the Lawrence school board.
But, in order to do an effective job of running local schools, the board needs a road map that shows them where they want to go and how to get there. For the local school board, that road map comes in the form of board policies that detail strategies and philosophies for just about every school district function, from setting the purpose of the district curriculum to selecting materials for the library.
That's why the recent curriculum audit's finding that school board policies are inadequate and have not been reviewed in a timely fashion should be of concern to district patrons.
The board policy requires it to review the policies at least every three years. Yet the curriculum audit committee found that many policies hadn't been reviewed for far longer than that and many others had no notation concerning when they were adopted or last reviewed. A few examples from the audit report:
- The individual and supplemental testing program was last reviewed in 1977.
- The policy on discrimination in instructional materials was looked at last in 1974.
- General duties of teachers were last reviewed in 1981.
The policy on high school boundaries was dated as being last reviewed in 1989, which is particularly odd, in light of the opening just two years ago of a second high school in Lawrence.
Many of the issues covered in the extensive board policy undoubtedly had been discussed and perhaps even updated since the listed review dates, but it is clear that it has been too long since there was a comprehensive review of the policies that set the tone for the operation of public schools in Lawrence.
Setting policies has both advantages and disadvantages from the vantage point of a board member or administrator. Having a set policy, in some cases, restricts action and reduces the decision-maker's flexibility. But reaching consensus on policy items sets direction and guidelines for the board and, therefore the district. If the policies are fair, they provide a basis for making tough or unpopular decisions that fit the district's overall goals.
Without adequate policies, officials may be more free to respond to special circumstances, but they also are more likely to make decisions that are viewed as capricious or inconsistent, and, therefore, are hard to defend.
Educators, unfortunately, are among some of the worst offenders when it comes to jargon-laden documents that obscure rather than explain many issues. It may sometimes seem they are more interested in processes and evaluations than in the simple basics of educating students.
School board members should be careful not to fall into that trap as they begin reviewing their policy statements. Perhaps they will find some of the items no longer are needed; maybe others can be simplified. Far fewer policies may be needed to delineate the basic board goal of providing the best possible education for Lawrence children.
At any rate, the time to get started on the task is now. Dozens of policies need to be reviewed. It's a process that may need to be phased over more than one year and put on a rotation to make sure the board meets its goal of looking at every policy at least once every three years.
The policy review may not seem important -- previous boards apparently held that view -- but up-to-date, meaningful policies are the foundation for strong schools -- and that is important to everyone in Lawrence.