Commentary: School board ponders education needs

Board looks to focus resources on activities that expand learning

By Barb Jewell
For The Cordova Times

Over the past two years Cordova School District has worked on developing and implementing a strategic plan aimed at charting the course of education in our community for the coming decade. If that sounds like an ambitious plan, that is because it is.

In the course of our strategic planning process the administration has analyzed district functions in almost every area; academic indicators and outcomes, participation in activities, staff/student ratio, physical plant, policies and procedures, funding resources, food services, and the list goes on. During this time, we have also conducted a number of surveys, conversations and meetings with students, parents, staff and community members.

Our goal is to understand what stakeholders want from education in Cordova. We asked our students “What is working here at school, and what would you improve? What advice would you give to 6th graders going into Jr/Sr High?”

We asked staff “How do you know when you are doing a good job?” And “What innovations would you introduce if there were no constraints?”

We asked community members “What do you think the world will look like in 20 years?  What does a well-prepared student look like?”

Some themes have emerged from these answers and activities, and we are using these to drive our academic and budgetary planning

So, to the topic of this article; the school district budget. School districts have three primary sources of funding. The federal government provides funds through title grants to support targeted and fairly highly regulated activities such as support for immigrant students, and food services. State dollars come primarily through the Base Student Allocation which is a fairly complex formula that provides a dollar amount calculated on a modified student count. Local dollars come through a mandated city contribution which has a minimum and maximum allowable amount. School districts have no authority to raise funds for operations. We must operate on what is given.

Over the past three years Cordova School District has experienced a significant decline in contributions from all three sources of funding. In addition, we have faced increased costs especially in terms of health insurance rates which have increased 8 percent just this year. We have been able to maintain district operations through efficiencies, unexpected E rate revenue (federal money which helps cover communications costs), an unexpected increase in student numbers last year and careful budgeting. But as we all know the world is not standing still. As we maintain, the world is moving ahead which means that our students will soon be falling behind.

The picture above is a graphic representation of the themes that have emerged from our strategic planning process. As you can see, there are a number of common threads that have been identified in the course of these activities. In terms of direction, one area that has resonated most strongly is the idea that a focus on ways of learning and expanding access to student’s ways of learning seems to reach out to all the other spokes on this wheel.

With these themes in mind, the board is looking to focus resources on activities that expand our students’ ways of learning. We are looking for ways to increase engagement with community partners that can offer learning opportunities to students outside of the building. We are looking for ways to improve, better utilize and increase facility space. We are looking to increase the number of teachers in the buildings. We are looking to focus on the social and emotional learning skills that will improve students’ learning and function in school and in life. All with a goal of graduating learners who will have permanent skills that allow them to be successful in a rapidly and ever-changing world.

School districts are required to turn in an approved budget no later than July 15 each year. We will be holding several work sessions and meeting over the next two months to craft a budget that will allow our students every opportunity to be successful in the world they will be living in.

Community input is critical to doing this well so please feel invited to join the conversation by attending these meetings, sending us an email or making a phone call. Our schools are a key ingredient in the health and well-being of our community.

Barb Jewell is the president of the Cordova School District Board of Education.