How can school boards better engage the communities they serve? It’s a struggle faced by just about every school board in the state. In Norwalk, a group of volunteers is attempting to answer that question.
A new initiative, launched yesterday by the education non-profit advocacy group ConnCAN, called ‘Board Watch,’ looks to increase civic engagement through a volunteer-led watchdog program.
“It seemed like a great advocacy effort to involve parents and residents wanting to get engaged and be a part of our movement,” said Toni Williams, a ConnCAN community organizer who has been working behind-the-scenes since July helping to organize the program. “The idea is that we want to help parents and residents understand what it means for the board and superintendent to work together to advance the strategic operating plan for education excellence for all of our kids.”
‘Board Watch’ isn’t a new concept. According to Williams, the model was first developed by A+ Schools in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She says it’s been so successful over the past eight years, that other districts, including Oakland, California and Denver, Colorado, have used the engagement model.
Current Score from the Board Watch website
Through the program, volunteer observers attend trainings on governance and then commit to attending meetings. The group says that at least two volunteer observers will attend every Norwalk school board meeting to evaluation the board, giving them a score based on criteria; such as transparency and conduct. Their evaluation will be then posted on the Board Watch website. Individual evaluations will be sent privately to each school board member.
The site is currently in Beta form, but more information will be available as the group continues.
Norwalk PTO Council President Michael Byrne, who’s also one of the volunteer observers, said Norwalk parents have been trying to get something like this off the ground for a few years.
“When I heard that ConnCAN was willing to come into town and start this,” said Byrne. “I was thrilled with it because it really is a great parent advocacy tool and they’ve taken a wonderful approach to it by involving the entire community.”
“The more information they have when they make decisions that affect sixty cents of every tax dollar that we spend here in Norwalk, the better we are.”
Norwalk’s school board members and the superintendent are welcoming the program.
“I think that the volunteers will actually help our Board of Education elevate the achievements of our district by increasing engagement,” said Norwalk Superintendent Steven Adamowski. “Transparency and accountability around the critical decisions we make for our schools.”
According to ConnCAN, if the program is successful, the plan is to launch similar community-led ‘Board Watch’ programs in other communities.
If anyone is interested in volunteering, the group is looking for community members to help out. It’s open to anyone who’s committed to going to at least two board meetings and is a resident of the state. You can sign up here at the Board Watch website: www.ConnCAN.org/BoardWatch