Simbli Policy Module Enhancements

eBOARDsolutions Announces Major Update to Simbli Policy Module

Enhanced policy management software offering makes it even easier for school boards to keep policies, procedures, and handbooks updated, organized in one place and accessible to all key stakeholders.

eBOARDsolutions Inc., today announced a major update to their online policy management software, the Simbli Policy Module.

One of six core modules that make up Simbli’s board management software, the Policy module helps school boards develop, communicate, and collaborate on policies and procedures in real time. Fully integrated with Simbli’s Meetings, Planning, Evaluations, Documents, and Communications Modules, the newly enhanced Policy Module provides governance teams even greater flexibility and control in managing all of the board’s important work.

“Through Simbli’s Policy module, our subscribers can not only access and make vital updates to their board policy manual, but also manage things like student and staff handbooks, school safety manuals, financial or IT procedures manuals, business continuity plans, and other critical manuals all in one place,” said Mark Willis, eBOARDsolutions Chief Operating Officer. “With Simbli, all of their manuals are easily searchable and 100% compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

In addition, the updates significantly improve both the functionality of the module, as well as the overall user experience.

New enhancements allow subscribers to:

  • Manage all types of policy or procedure manuals
  • View and print manuals and policies in multiple languages, on any device
  • Search, filter and display results by one, many, or all Simbli Policy subscribers
  • Do custom printings of a single policy, a section, or an entire manual
  • Collaborate and solicit public comment on draft policies, with inline comments
  • Customize and assign “sub-status” labels to draft policies
  • Automatically attach PDF versions of policies to board meeting agendas, strategic plans, or board evaluations
  • Access archived versions of policies
  • Provide enhanced safety and security with data backups – Simbli is SOC-2 certified, reducing the board’s cyber-risk by protecting confidential information and ensuring data privacy

About eBOARDsolutions
eBOARDsolutions is the leader in online board management tools for effective governance. With a unique understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing school boards, the Georgia School Boards Association began building these online tools over 20 years ago to help its member boards increase their efficiency and effectiveness. In 2007, eBOARDsolutions, Inc. was born, and has been making these tools available to school boards, nonprofits, and governments across the United States ever since. With an annual renewal rate of more than 99 percent, Simbli is helping boards and the people who work with them simply get more done. Learn more about eBOARDsolutions and Simbli at

Improving Board Effectiveness

10 Essential Strategies to Take Your Board to the Next Level

school-board-effectiveness-300x200 10 Essential Strategies to Take Your Board to the Next Level

Is your board as effective as it could be?

Effective school boards aren’t simply born. They’re built with a healthy combination of elements — from teamwork and strategic planning to alignment and accountability. Find out how to take your board to the next level with these 10 essential strategies.

1. Set Team Expectations

To ensure that your board is doing its best to support student achievement, each member must clearly understand what is expected of them. Documentation like the following can help communicate team expectations.

  • School Board Norms: Board governance norms describe board protocols, such as how the board should interact with each other, conduct themselves during meetings, and communicate with the superintendent, staff and community.  
  • Code of Ethics: Each board should have a code of ethics that outlines the values and standards board members must uphold. Members should agree to abide by the code, and it should be readily available to stakeholders for review.
  • Roles and Responsibilities: Board members should understand their own roles, and that of the superintendent. While the board defines vision and goals, the superintendent focuses on strategy and implementation.

Watch the webinar Leading the Learning – The Changing Role of Today’s Governance Team

2. Keep Everyone on Board

Build trust and make sure everyone is aligned through intentional communication between the board and superintendent. Regular communication is especially important as the governance team changes. Here are some ways to keep everyone aligned.  

  • New Member Orientation: New board members should be provided training and documentation to set them up for success in their role. They should understand topics such as: the governance structure, basics of serving on the board, and relations between the board, superintendent, staff and community.
  • Superintendent Orientation: The superintendent orientation helps new superintendents learn about their new role and responsibilities, as well as build a relationship with the board and the community. These early days provide the opportunity to form a strong governance team.  

Read the article Six Important Questions School Boards Should Ask Superintendents

3. Build Leadership Capacity

In order to effectively govern the district, school boards must intentionally build leadership capacity. Leadership starts with knowing your responsibilities, and strengthens as you get to know more about the school system. Here are some ways you can build leadership capacity in your own board.

  • Elect a Chair/Vice Chair: The board chair leads members of the board, and serves as the direct link to the administration. If the chair is absent, the vice chair takes on those duties.    
  • Create a Board Training Plan: In order to continually improve their work, boards should develop and adopt a training plan each year, both for individual members, and the board as a whole. These should incorporate topics such as team building and conflict resolution.

Read the eBook The Essential Guide to High Performing Boards

4. Plan Intentionally

Focusing on student success starts with planning board work strategically and systematically. By planning intentionally, you can encourage growth and dialogue as you work toward board goals.

  • Create a Planning Calendar: A planning calendar can help you document the important work your board should be performing each month throughout the school year. The calendar should include areas such as adopting budgets, aligning board and district strategies, updating your strategic plan, reviewing standardized test scores, and communicating progress in student achievement to stakeholders.
  • Review Your Strategic Plan: Commit to a culture of continuous improvement for your board and school system by ensuring your strategic plan includes these key components: Mission, vision and beliefs, analysis of the current organizational state, strategic goals and priorities, performance objectives and measures, and initiatives and actions.

Read the article Top 10 Tips for Effective Strategic Planning

5. Understand and Use Data

To ensure students are performing at or above grade level, boards need to start with the data. By organizing, studying and aligning your data, you can better understand performance and identify areas of improvement without the guesswork.

  • Discover Your Data: Find out what kind of data your board works with on a regular basis — both on the district and community levels.
  • Measure Performance: Keep your board accountable and measure progress toward goals by creating strategic plan performance measures. Review progress during the board self-assessment, superintendent evaluation and annual review.

Read the article Create a Performance Culture in Your School District

6. Execute Strategically

Having a strategic plan is just a start. In order to effectively execute that plan, boards must understand and align their work to it.  

  • Align Your Work: From meetings to evaluations, boards should align their work to strategic goals to ensure the right things are getting done.
  • Aim for Continuous Improvement: Keep your board growing and improving by knowing who you are, where you are now, where you want to go, and how you’ll get there.
  • Manage Efficiently: From planning and meetings to policies and evaluations, board management software can help you keep your governance team running smoothly.

Read the case study  Effective Board Governance with the Core Four

7. Hold Yourself Accountable

Accountability is an important element of an effective governance team. Teams should understand that they’re accountable, measure that accountability, and work with others to ensure they stay accountable. 

  • Conduct a Self-Assessment: A board self-assessment can help you identify how you’re performing and highlight areas of improvement. The assessment should happen at least once a year, be based on strategic plans, be constructive, and result in an action plan for improvement.
  • Make It Electronic: Technology can help you make your assessment process more efficient and effective. Electronic self-assessments can help you more easily align actions to your strategic plan, attach evidence and streamline the overall process.

Read the article Meaningful Evaluations Begin with Appreciative Inquiry

8. Hold Your Superintendent Accountable

Boards are responsible for ensuring that the superintendent is leading the district effectively, and implementing improvement plans at each school. 

  • Conduct a Superintendent Evaluation: This annual review is a key component in holding superintendents accountable for their work. During the process, the superintendent should conduct a self-assessment while board members complete the evaluation form. Once the superintendent has met with the board, the evaluation instrument is updated to reflect new or updated expectations.  
  • Manage with Technology: As with the board self-assessment, an electronic evaluation can help simplify the process by allowing you to more easily align superintendent actions to the strategic plan, and attach evidence.

Watch the webinar Superintendent Evaluation: Challenges and Steps to Make It Meaningful and Ongoing

9. Build Community Support

Your governance team can build community support by sharing information about plans and accomplishments, as well as listening to what stakeholders, parents and business leaders have to say.

  • Serve as Advocates: Board members can serve as chief advocates for the school system by continuously engaging with the community.  
  • Keep Communicating: Maintain transparency and open the lines of communication by holding public forums, community meetings, focus groups, and other community and media events.
  • Get Some Help: The free Simbli Community Toolkit provides you with sample press releases, letters, talking points and other resources to help you strengthen board ties with the community.

Watch the webinar Bridging the Engagement Gap

10. Celebrate, Reflect, Plan and Grow

Effective governance teams set aside time to proactively celebrate and reflect on their achievements, as well as plan and grow. Here are a few ways to do just that.

  • Hold a Board Retreat: Block out time to discuss roles and responsibilities, review board norms and code of ethics, do team building exercises, conduct a board self-assessment and review your strategic plan.
  • Recognize Achievements: Publicly recognize board milestones and individual board member achievements.
  • Host a State of the District Event: Invite key stakeholders and community members to a special event in which you celebrate goals reached and invite them to support work that still needs to be done.

Take the Board Effectiveness Challenge


eBOARDsolutions and the Idaho School Boards Association (ISBA) Establish Partnership

ISBA_logo_green_gold2-300x208 eBOARDsolutions and the Idaho School Boards Association (ISBA) Establish PartnershipeBOARDsolutions, Inc. and the Idaho School Boards Association (ISBA) announced a newly formed partnership today to make Simbli board management software available to all ISBA member school districts. Featuring six core integrated modules that help boards maximize productivity, Simbli brings together meetings, planning, policies, evaluations, documents, and communications into one, easy-to-use board management software solution. ISBA has a long history of providing ‘best-in-class’ solutions, catering to member needs across a wide spectrum of services.

“Supporting the needs of our members is our highest priority,” said Karen Echeverria, ISBA Executive Director. “Simbli’s board management software offers our members an entire suite of board management solutions in a single application, extending far beyond the traditional meetings- or policy-only applications often seen in the market today. A subsidiary of the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA), we also know eBOARDsolutions understands the core work of school board members and shares our passion for servicing the work they do on behalf of school districts across the state.”

“We’ve been building solutions designed to facilitate better board governance in school districts for more than two decades,” said Mark Willis, eBOARDsolutions Chief Operating Officer. “I guess you could say it’s in our DNA and helps drive our focus for delivering the best possible product with the highest level of customer service.” GSBA Executive Director, Valarie Wilson also commented, “GSBA and ISBA share the same commitment to school board members and the work they do to improve public education. By working together, we strengthen our ability to help our school boards model excellence in board governance and better serve their students and communities.

Founded in 2007, eBOARDsolutions was originally developed to help the Georgia School Boards Association member boards increase their efficiency and effectiveness. Today, eBOARDsolutions flagship board governance software solution, Simbli is used by over 1,200 school boards, non-profits, and governments in 25 states and is proud to maintain a 99% annual renewal rate. The partnership with ISBA will provide more than 550 locally elected school board members and several hundred charter school board members throughout Idaho the option to subscribe to Simbli’s board management software solution.

About eBOARDsolutions
eBOARDsolutions is the leader in online board management tools for effective governance. With a unique understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing school boards, the Georgia School Boards Association began building these online tools over 20 years ago to help its member boards increase their efficiency and effectiveness. In 2007, eBOARDsolutions, Inc. was born, and has been making these tools available to school boards, nonprofits, and governments across the United States ever since. With an annual renewal rate of more than 99 percent, Simbli is helping boards and the people who work with them simply get more done. Learn more about eBOARDsolutions and Simbli at

About ISBA
The Idaho School Boards Association (ISBA) is a non-profit, service organization providing policy services, legislative advocacy, leadership support and quality, cost-efficient board training to association members. Our mission is to provide leadership and services to local school boards for the benefit of students and for the advocacy of public education. ISBA has a mission to help support and improve policy decision making and implementation by Idaho school districts by providing the training and education necessary. ISBA Legislative Services staff works with legislators, State Board of Education, State Department of Education, and the Governor’s office, as well as other education stakeholders in developing education legislation as directed by the membership, and opposing bills that restrict local control of schools. To advocate for school districts, the ISBA staff and Governmental Affairs Committee are involved in day-to-day activities at the Legislature. Learn more by visiting

District Technology Planning

5 Key Areas Every K-12 District Should Include in Their Technology Plan

students-studying-300x200 5 Key Areas Every K-12 District Should Include in Their Technology Plan

Are these areas covered in your technology plan?

Ten years ago, your district technology plan most certainly looked very different than the vision and plan you have today. As the number of devices, applications, platforms and vendors continues to rise—as well as the number of people who work with them—creating a district technology plan has become a complex undertaking.

But one thing hasn’t changed: the direct impact your technology plan has on student achievement and classroom instructional strategies. An integral part of your comprehensive school improvement plan, at its core, your technology plan should focus on how your district will use technology to transform teaching and learning.

Hall County Schools Shares Technology Planning Must-Haves

We invited Dr. Aaron Turpin, assistant superintendent of technology for Hall County Schools, GA, and one of the Center for Digital Education’s Top 40 Innovators In Education, to share with us in a recent webinar how his district has approached technology planning. Joined by Jay Smith, innovation architect, and Greg Odell, eLearning specialist, the Hall County team discussed five areas that every school district should include in their technology plan: networks and services, information technology, instructional technology, web development and technology funding.

Let’s take a look at each of these areas.

Key Area 1: Networks and Services

“Everything we do in a school district—instruction, school food nutrition, finance, transportation, student health services, security systems—they’re all on the network. With that reality, a secure network isn’t just a luxury, it’s a necessity for school districts.”
— Jay Smith, innovation architect, Hall County Schools

One of the major elements in that network is the district’s data center, noted Smith. The component that “makes all the magic happen” across the district. He offered some tips to ensure your student and district data is safe and secure, from building in redundancy to ensuring adequate computer room cooling.

He also recommends that districts monitor networks around the clock, as well as conduct regular audits—not only to uncover issues, but also to confirm that your systems are performing as expected.

“There is no unhackable system,” said Smith. “An unhackable system is really one that is never used.”

Key Area 2: Information Technology

“Information technology is key to funding school districts.”
— Dr. Aaron Turpin, assistant superintendent of technology, Hall County Schools

Depending on where your district is located, state and federal funding is tied to areas such as free and reduced lunch percentage, number of students, years of teacher experience and teacher degree levels. In the state of Georgia, the number one factor in determining state and federal funding is scheduling, noted Dr. Turpin. That’s why stakeholders work closely with IT to ensure they have the data they need to get it right.

In order to maximize funding, Dr. Turpin recommends having an effective master schedule, ensuring everyone adheres to FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy) regulations around protecting student privacy, and having two backups of your systems, including your student information system (SIS).

“A lapse in data security could jeopardize a student’s future opportunities,” he said.

Key Area 3: Instructional Technology

“The purpose of everything we do is to have a positive impact on student achievement.”
— Greg Odell, e-Learning specialist, Hall County Schools

The e-Learning team does this by collaborating with teachers, administrators and other school leaders in curriculum design. They curate and evaluate new and existing instructional content and platforms, while looking for ways to break down communication silos and collaborate more effectively across the district.

According to Odell, their most important work is supporting local school teachers. Through their BLAST program (Blended LeArning Support Teams), the e-Learning team works with local school blended learning leaders (practicing classroom teachers) to identify how their digital resources can help the school best meet the instructional goals outlined in their school improvement plans.

Key Area 4: Web Development

“Successful organizations realize that their customers expect to be able to access well-organized, pertinent information on many different devices at any time.”
— Dr. Aaron Turpin, assistant superintendent of technology, Hall County Schools

That’s why the district considers web development to be an important function of a highly efficient, effective technology department, explained Dr. Turpin. To support their efforts, Hall County has three full-time web developers. The district also empowers schools to maintain their own websites, with some schools choosing to work with high school Career and Technical Education (CTE) students to develop and maintain their sites.

To ensure districts manage their sites strategically and effectively, Dr. Turpin discussed best practices, from making sure your sites work on a variety of devices, to investing in security and backing up your sites regularly.

“Don’t skimp on website security,” cautioned Dr. Turpin. He explained that the district site had been hacked in the past, and while they were able to get the site back online in minutes, they have since strengthened their security measures to prevent further episodes.

Key Area 5: Technology Funding

“With the exception of power and water, there’s really no area that impacts every facet of operation more than technology.”
— Dr. Aaron Turpin, assistant superintendent of technology, Hall County Schools

Dr. Turpin advised district leaders to think about ways they can work smarter, drive down costs and save valuable time. In one example, the district realized a 45-percent cost savings over nine years by replacing textbooks with instructional software. In another, they saved $10,000 in consultant fees after investing $2,000 in a technology certification training program.

Find out more about how Hall County has developed their technology vision and plan. Watch the webinar today.


5 Proven Practices for Stronger Superintendent Evaluations

students-studying-300x200 5 Proven Practices for Stronger Superintendent Evaluations

Effective evaluations add value to your school system

For some boards and districts, the superintendent evaluation can be a tedious, sometimes confusing annual process. It may even be viewed as inefficient and adding little value. But for those who get it right, evaluations can keep everyone aligned on the district’s strategic goals, increase trust and communication, and ultimately improve the education experience.

“It’s about your vision, your goals, and your district making a difference in teaching and learning,” said Harry Heiligenthal, leadership development director at the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB), and co-leader of IASB’s Lighthouse Projects and Study. Heiligenthal and two members of the Carroll Community Schools’ governance team—Board President Jen Munson and Superintendent Rob Cordes—recently joined us for a webinar on how boards and superintendents can conduct superintendent evaluations that add value to the entire school system.

Top Tips for Better Superintendent Evaluations

1. Know your requirements.

The first step to more meaningful evaluations is to understand what your state and district require when it comes to superintendent evaluations, said Heiligenthal. If you’re not sure what those requirements are, read up on your state’s laws, he advised. Then have meaningful discussions with the entire board in the first two to three months of the fiscal year around your district policy for evaluations.

“Whether it’s required by law or not, superintendent evaluation is certainly an effective practice,” noted Heiligenthal.

2. Brush up on your policies.

At this point, you’re not reviewing policy to change it, explained Heiligenthal, but rather making sure that any new board members understand the policy, while serving as a refresher for existing members.

“This is not a long deal,” he said. “For some boards, it’s a five- or 10-minute discussion.”

3. Review the blank evaluation form.

“In our work with boards in Iowa, we find there’s a big need to revisit and familiarize the whole team with a blank copy of the evaluation instrument,” said Heiligenthal. When the team reviews the form, they might identify areas they don’t understand, or realize that they’ve not met some of the key requirements, such as setting superintendent goals.

Heiligenthal recommends that boards and superintendents review the form at least eight to 10 months prior to the evaluation to ensure everyone is clear about the process before it begins.

4. Tie superintendent goals to district priorities.

Heiligenthal noted that school systems should identify two or three indicators of progress for each evaluation standard at the beginning of the year, guided by their district goals, and explain those measures in easy-to-understand terms.

“Your state may have mandated standards, you may have expectations that your board and superintendent set that are unique to your district, or you may be heavily relying on the superintendent’s job description,” he said. “Whatever it is you use in relation to those expectations, it’s important to talk those through so everyone understands what those expectations mean.”

5. Make the evaluation process ongoing.

Rather than conducting an end-of-the-year summary evaluation, Heiligenthal recommends frequent, shorter reviews, including a one-page, mid-year performance review. With the superintendent’s goals in front of them, board members take a few minutes to provide input around strengths and progress, areas for growth, and adjustments for roadblocks, including ways to get around them.

“If a board team uses a tool like this, has a short 20- to 30-minute maximum conversation with the superintendent a few times a year, keeps the key notes on this form, and then fills out the form during the end-of-year summary evaluation, the evaluation becomes a more manageable tool and process, and board members don’t have to rely just on memory,” said Heiligenthal.

Ongoing communication and feedback also serve to make the entire process more meaningful and valuable for everyone involved, he added.

“That’s what this process should be about—something meaningful that both the board and superintendent can take away from the process and use in moving forward.”

Watch the Webinar

For more information on how you can strengthen your own superintendent evaluations, view the webinar, or read about Simbli’s board performance evaluation software.

Six Important Questions School Boards Should Ask Superintendents

Six Important Questions School Boards Should Ask Superintendents

students-studying-300x200 Six Important Questions School Boards Should Ask Superintendents

Improve board dynamics by asking the right questions

Serving as a school board member can be a rewarding experience, but as you know, the role also comes with its share of challenges. Miscommunication, lack of bold and courageous goals, unhealthy team dynamics, and poor policy management are just a few you might have experienced.

Fortunately, these challenges can be overcome. But your board is going to need some help. We recently invited Dr. Gene Bottoms, senior vice president of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), to talk us about how boards and superintendents can best work together to achieve their goals.

“School boards are on the front line, really,” says Dr. Bottoms. “You hear parents, business people, and other stakeholders in the community—they all have a stake in their schools. Part of your role is to ask the right questions of superintendents.”

The Super Six Questions

Here are the six questions Dr. Bottoms recommends school board members ask their superintendents to help them develop a closer working relationship, and achieve the outcomes set out in their strategic plan.

Question-1-strategic-planning Six Important Questions School Boards Should Ask Superintendents


Question 1: Strategic Planning
How do we create a community and district-wide culture of continuous improvement, plan strategically, and align our operating plans to achieve strategic outcomes?

“This is an essential question that school boards should ask their superintendent,” says Dr. Bottoms. “An effective strategic plan will result in a culture of continuous improvement by helping central office and school staff work together in unison toward achieving bold goals.”

Bold goals could include a 95 percent graduation rate, 80 percent college and career ready, or both, he adds. If your board doesn’t have such a plan, Dr. Bottoms recommends working with your superintendent to develop those goals around a framework of proven practices to help level the playing field and increase the number of students who are college and career ready.

Question-2-student-achievement Six Important Questions School Boards Should Ask Superintendents


Question 2: Student Achievement
How are we monitoring leading critical indicators to support all of our students achieving at grade level or above, and how are we communicating that information?

Dr. Bottoms notes that it’s important to look beyond test scores, at the experiences of different groups of students in the classroom to understand why certain students achieve at a higher level than others.

“The differences between classroom expectations and classroom practices between honors classes and regular classes are dramatic,” he says. “Most students in the other classes could achieve at honor levels, too. But they’re given a different kind of instruction, and school boards must understand this.”

He recommends boards work with superintendents to identify current classroom expectations, assignments and assessments, and ensure that they’re aligned to grade-level work for all students.

Question-3-accountability Six Important Questions School Boards Should Ask Superintendents


Question #3: Accountability
How do we hold personnel accountable for developing and implementing school improvement plans at each school?

Dr. Bottoms says that, although we often think of teachers when we discuss accountability, it’s the responsibility of everyone in the school system to ensure students are successful. Boards and superintendents can make this happen by ensuring that every employee understands his or her role in supporting students, using the district’s strategic plan as their guide.

“What must be evaluated in terms of how everybody performs their role, is that we are a team,” he says. “And a good plan builds a team of unison. It’s not about who failed to do something. Everybody carries their role and should be held accountable in that context.”

Question-4-equity Six Important Questions School Boards Should Ask Superintendents


Question #4: Equity
What policy recommendations, practices and data indicators are we utilizing to ensure we are meeting every child where they are?

Dr. Bottoms cautions that remediation and accommodation strategies lower expectations, and don’t help students achieve to their potential. Instead, he advises that boards examine their policies and challenge district leaders to consider new perspectives.

“Equity is not about accommodating folks. It’s not about remediation,” he says. “It is about accelerating learning. It’s about providing additional time and assistance that some students need to get there. We have to look for strategies to get people to the grade-level work.”

Question-5-community-support Six Important Questions School Boards Should Ask Superintendents


Question 5: Building Community Support
How are we engaging, soliciting, and responding to our key stakeholders, parents, and business leaders to enhance student learning?

Dr. Bottoms recommends that boards and superintendents work together, through their policies and strategic plans, to invite the faith community, the business community, and parents to be engaged to enhance student learning. He adds that school systems can encourage parents to become partners in the education of their children by making sure all students understand the opportunities available to them after they graduate.

As part of the larger question, he says boards should ask:

“How do we develop policies that allow elementary and middle-grade students to see the back side of the hospital, of the emergency room, to see a modern-day manufacturing plant, or the back side of a bank to understand all these opportunities, and begin to visualize themselves in those roles?”

Question-6-fiscal-responsibility Six Important Questions School Boards Should Ask Superintendents


Question 6: Fiscal Responsibility
How do we ensure that we are being fiscally responsible with our financial resources, and how do we communicate that to our board and community stakeholders?

When it comes to fiscal responsibility, says Dr. Bottoms, the most important thing for boards and superintendents to remember is that they need to be transparent. This means reviewing a monthly report of income and expenditures, understanding how discretionary income is being spent, and providing an annual report to the community.

“The taxpayers are your stockholders, and there ought to be an annual report online or sent out in print, eight to 10 pages that outlines, ‘This is what your dollars bought in this district,’” he says. “These are the results you’re getting for the investment you make in the public school system.”

Watch the Webinar

For additional tips on how boards and superintendents can build a more collaborative relationship, watch the webinar, The Super Six — The Top 6 Questions School Board Members Should be Asking Their Superintendents.

21st Century Learner-Centric Classroom

How Boards Lead the Shift to Student-Centered Learning

students-studying-300x200 How Boards Lead the Shift to Student-Centered Learning

The Role of District Leaders in Education Transformation

Student-centered learning brings with it the promise to transform education. By involving and engaging students in their own learning, the model rejects top-down teaching and leadership methods and emphasizes skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity — competencies that are critical for tomorrow’s workforce. And while the role of teachers and school-based leaders has been well defined, leaders at the district level are still trying to understand how they can best facilitate the transformation to student-centered learning.

The answer, according to prominent education leaders, lies in gaining a clear understanding of how the changes in the world around us have caused a shift in the needs of today’s students.

“The skills that we want to develop in students are very different than those we’re teaching today,” said Dr. Phil Lanoue, former superintendent of Clarke County School District in Athens, GA. and 2015 AASA National Superintendent of the Year. “When we know the skills we want are around teamwork, collaboration, problem-solving, creativity and innovation – why aren’t those topics at the center of the conversation? District leaders need to step forth and say we need to do things differently.”

Leaders who are ready to make the shift to student-centered education need the ability to balance vision with the work of today, says Valarie Wilson, executive director for the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA).

“Boards and superintendents must master the ability to be visionaries as well as work in the present,” she said. “We have to think about what we will expect from these children five to 10 years from now and the type of environment in which they will grow, learn and live.”

The best way for leaders to define these expectations, she added, is to understand the work that needs to be done — the changes taking place in education, how children learn and process, and how educators teach.

The Learner-Centered Paradigm Shift

According to the Education Reimagined initiative by non-profit organization Convergence, changes in the workforce and in education are needed because today’s students are learning in a system designed for a different era. In its report, A Transformational Vision for Education in the United States, the organization notes that the world has progressed from the Industrial Age of assemblies and factory lines to the Networked Age of connections.

However, education hasn’t kept up. As a result, we’re still seeing school-centric teaching models designed for efficiency and standardization rather than models that focus on the needs of the student.

Education-Reimagined-1 How Boards Lead the Shift to Student-Centered Learning
Source: A Transformational Vision for Education in the United States, Education Reimagined, Convergence, 2015.

“We believe that the current system’s one-to-many approach to teaching, standardized curriculum, age-based cohorts, and classroom-contained instruction are all limitations on our children’s opportunities to learn and thrive in this changing world,” notes the report.

“In order to fulfill the purpose of education for all children and create extraordinary learning for each and every child, our system must be entirely transformed.”

3 Ways District Leaders Can Lead the Transformation to Student-Centered Learning

To help boards and superintendents chart the path to student-centered learning, we asked Dr. Lanoue and Ms. Wilson to share with us their best recommendations. Here are their top three.

1. Have the right conversations

Think about your last board meeting or gathering with district leaders. Would you say that most of your discussions focused on areas like test scores, teacher evaluations and operational issues? Or did you talk about how to make learning better for students?

If you answered the former, it’s time to change the conversation, says Dr. Lanoue.

“Having the right conversations is what changes behaviors,” he said. “Have we really had the right conversations in public education about what schools need for the future, and what the new learner looks like? I’m not sure we have.”

Instead of getting bogged down in federal and state regulations and policies around high-stakes testing, vouchers and choice, says Dr. Lanoue, district leaders need to understand what being learner-centered really means for their students, and then define criteria for success outside of test scores.

Ms. Wilson agrees that leaders are spending too much time talking about testing, and not enough time understanding how children learn. She adds that outside forces like legislation around school spending, or recommendations from education think tanks on how children should be educated are distracting leaders from doing the work that needs to be done.

“We have so many people outside of education who dictate what we should be doing and how, and that gets in the way,” she says.

She recommends that district leaders do their best to understand these external circumstances so they can keep the conversation focused on what really matters.

2. Keep students at the center of your strategy

Both Dr. Lanoue and Ms. Wilson stressed the importance of keeping student needs at the center of strategic planning and policy discussions.

“When discussing the district’s strategic plan and policies, students should be at the core and foundation,” said Ms. Wilson. “Leaders need to ensure that in every meeting and opportunity where the board, superintendent and higher-level staff and teachers get together, we talk about how we’re moving the needle for our students, whether in a board meeting, cabinet meeting, or a gathering of third and fourth grade teachers.”

She adds that the same holds true for community gatherings, such as rotary meetings.

“If a superintendent or board member is in the community talking about the education system, they need to talk about it with an emphasis on student-centered learning,” she said.

Dr. Lanoue echoes the importance of aligning the strategic plan with student needs.

“You need to draw a line from the strategic plan to every student who has a seat in your district and ask, ‘Were they impacted by what we would say we would do in the system?’”

3. Educate your stakeholders

It’s up to district leaders to educate everyone in the school district about what it means to be learner-centric, as well as the role they play in making it a reality, says Dr. Lanoue. This includes everyone from students and teachers to fellow board members and the community.

“I believe that in education, we’ve asked teachers and principals to do things we ourselves didn’t understand,” he said. “District leaders have to model the things we want. We need to have clarity about what these things look like.”

Ms. Wilson says this clarity should extend to both fellow board members and the community.

“If board members don’t understand what student-centered learning is, and that learning goes beyond the walls of the classroom, then they can’t drive policy and be visionaries and advocates for it,” she said.

She suggests providing professional development that showcases school systems in which student-centered learning has been successfully implemented to help board members understand how the model works in action. In addition, district leaders should create opportunities for better lines of communication between boards and superintendents regarding how to implement student-centered learning practices.

Finally, Ms. Wilson recommends improving communication between the school system and the community to help them understand what district leaders are doing, how they’re doing it and why.

“You can do this through policies and the strategic planning process,” she said. “Walk through the planning process with the community and focus on student-centered learning. Help those stakeholders understand their role in continuing the education process, and always keep them connected.”

Ultimately, concludes Dr. Lanoue, the transition to student-centered learning comes down to recognizing and celebrating the individuality of every student.

“We need to know that each child is unique. It’s our job to see those talents, and activate them to be successful.”

Manage your board meetings — and your minutes — more efficiently with Simbli’s paperless board meeting management software. Learn more.

Board Meeting Minutes

Board Meeting Minutes: 8 Things You Should Never Miss

taking-meeting-minutes-300x200 Board Meeting Minutes: 8 Things You Should Never Miss

Taking Effective Meeting Minutes

Taking effective meeting minutes is an important aspect of board management. Not only do minutes provide a historical account of board actions, they help to measure progress against your strategic plan, drive accountability, and can be used as legal protection if necessary.

For all of the benefits, however, the act of recording meeting minutes comes with its challenges. Many board secretaries and others responsible for taking minutes struggle with determining what should be recorded and how. To help clear up some of the confusion, and offer some best practices around taking minutes, we talked with Zenda Bowie, director of field services and parliamentarian for the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA).

“There’s a lot of confusion around what the meeting minutes represent,” said Bowie. “The minutes are the official record of the proceedings of the organization, not a journal or a diary. Minutes should only include the actions, and a way for someone reading them five years from now to discern what took place.”

Here, Bowie shares her list of meeting minutes must-haves below, along with some of her best tips as part of the Simbli Webinar Series. Note that you should always check your bylaws for any variations to these practices.

8 Things You Should Always Include in Your Meeting Minutes

1. Type of Meeting

Boards can hold several types of meetings, says Bowie, including regular, special, called, emergency and other meetings. So, it’s important to include which type of meeting the minutes cover. She offers a quick rundown of the most common types of board meetings:

Regular Meeting: Regular meetings are those meetings scheduled for the year in accordance with the organization’s bylaws.

Called Meeting: A called meeting is a meeting that occurs for a specific purpose. For example, a board might hold a called meeting to discuss the purchase of an item. Bowie notes that the agenda for a called meeting cannot be amended. If the board discusses and takes action on any topic outside of the agenda, she says, the discussion and actions are moot.

Special Meeting: A special meeting is one held separately from regularly scheduled meetings. A special meeting can replace a meeting that was cancelled or postponed, for example, and it must be announced. Unlike a called meeting, the agenda of a special meeting may be changed, says Bowie.

2. Organization Name

Although this might sound obvious, your minutes should include the official name of the organizing body. Bowie says this is often left out because the recording secretary and the group already know the name of the organization that is meeting. However, the name should always be included in the minutes.

3. Date and Time

Bowie clarifies that the meeting time you record in the minutes is the time the meeting is called to order. If the meeting was scheduled for 7:00, and for some reason it started at 7:30, the minutes should indicate 7:30 as the start time.

4. Location

The location should be included unless the organization meets at the same place every time. If this is the case, only include the location in the minutes of the first meeting of the fiscal year.

5. Attendee Names

Include the full names of the presiding officer (chair), governance members and recording secretary in attendance. If there is a substitute serving for the chair, this should be reflected in the minutes.

6. Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes

The minutes of the previous meeting should be approved during the current meeting. Bowie recommends that the minutes of the previous meeting be distributed electronically, or by mail, as soon after the meeting as possible so that members have plenty of time to review and make corrections if necessary.

Corrections should be sent to the secretary in advance of the next meeting so that valuable meeting time is not spent discussing changes to previous meeting minutes. Corrections should reflect inaccuracies, not changes to writing style, says Bowie.

Many organizations require that the presiding officer and recording secretary sign the minutes once approved, she adds, so it’s important to check your bylaws to ensure the proper signatures are included.

7. Motions and Votes

The minutes should reflect what took place in motions — the action of the board, not the dialogue, says Bowie. She adds that minutes shouldn’t include who said what (except for motions), or editorial comments such as, “the chair said emphatically,” or that he pounded the desk.

For motions, include the exact wording of the statement, and the name of the person making the motion. Some organizations might require the name of the person seconding the motion, as well.

Bowie adds that if the motion is not worded properly, it’s up to the chair to help the member modify the wording. The recording secretary should then record exactly what was said. It’s not the responsibility of the secretary to edit the motion, she says.

The outcome of the vote should be recorded. Here are a few examples:

  • Ms. Martin moved that the 2017-2018 budget be approved as amended. Mr. Avery seconded the motion. The motion passed unanimously (Voting yes: Ms. Martin, Mr. Avery, Dr. Strong, Ms. Mayfield, Mr. Octave).
  • Ms. Martin moved that the 2017-2018 budget be approved as amended. Mr. Avery seconded the motion. The motion passed 3-2 (Voting yes: Ms. Martin, Mr. Avery, Mr. Octave; Voting no: Dr. Strong, Ms. Mayfield)
  • Ms. Martin moved that the 2017-2018 budget be approved as amended. Mr. Avery seconded the motion. The motion passed 3-1-1 (Voting yes: Ms. Martin, Mr. Avery, Mr. Octave; Voting no: Ms. Mayfield; Abstaining: Dr. Strong)

Amendments, points of order and appeals, even if not sustained, should also be recorded.

Changing votes: One challenge many recording secretaries face, says Bowie, is when a board member wants to change his or her vote after the fact.

“The vote can be changed as long as the presiding officer has not announced the results of the vote,” she clarifies. “If the desire comes after the fact, the secretary can’t make the change.”

8. Meeting Adjournment Time and Signature

In addition to recording the time the meeting adjourns, the person who recorded the minutes should sign them. The words “Submitted by” followed by the signature is acceptable according to Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised, says Bowie.

Bowie offers additional tips for taking effective minutes, including spelling out acronyms on the first reference, and sitting in a place where you can see and hear everyone. But taking good meeting minutes ultimately comes down to good communication between the secretary, members of the organization, and the chair, she concludes.

“The recording secretary must have license and be willing to stop people and ask for clarification if they didn’t hear something clearly, or are unsure what something means. The secretary is responsible for getting the information, and getting it accurately.”

Want to keep these tips handy? Download the quick guide to board meeting minutes and be sure to watch Zenda in action as part of our Simbli Webinar Series!

Manage your board meetings — and your minutes — more efficiently with Simbli’s paperless board meeting management software. Learn more.

Bibb County Schools

2019 National Superintendent of the Year Focuses on Solid Board Governance

It All Starts with Board Governance

When Dr. Curtis Jones joined Bibb County School District in April 2015, little did he know that four short years later he would be named Georgia Superintendent of the Year, as well as National Superintendent of the Year. In fact, winning recognition was likely the furthest from his mind as he spent his first month visiting area schools and interacting with community members to learn about what was going right, and to hear their suggestions for improving the district. He found that the community cared deeply about their students, and wanted to ensure that they could trust their schools with providing them quality education in a secure environment.

“The community, in some ways, said, ‘We just need to see the school board do better,’” said Dr. Jones.

With the help of Simbli, he set out to improve board governance by aligning the district’s strategic plan and policies, improving the way the board conducted meetings, and conducting regular evaluations to ensure that he and the board were on track to carry out their goals.

Increasing Accountability and Alignment

Dr. Jones’ began to address the governance challenge by creating a culture of accountability for everyone in the school system — from the board down to the student. And he began with the district’s strategic plan.

“What we did at the school level and the district level was we worked on our strategic plan,” he said. “The idea was, ‘How can you improve, and how do you get everybody aligned?’”

They found that alignment with the help of Simbli.

“For the first time,” said Dr. Jones, “our schools were able to put in place continuous improvement plans that had the same goal areas and the same objectives.”

Meetings: Not Just a Time to Get Together

Dr. Jones also set out to ensure that the board ran their meetings in the most efficient, effective way possible. With Simbli, they aligned their meetings with their strategic plan to ensure that every issue discussed, and every action item assigned moved them closer to achieving their goals.

“When I meet once a month with my leadership team, we all come together and we use Simbli to set the agenda,” said Dr. Jones. “We’re able to tie those agenda items to items in our strategic plan.”

Bibb County also uses Simbli to help them better collaborate with the community.

“We’ve taken our school council meetings and put them inside Simbli,” said Dr. Jones. “So, if we want to partner with the community — which is one of our strategic goals — we can show how that happens at every school.”

Dr. Jones is thrilled to be able to prove to the district and the community the value of board meetings, and how they are instrumental in refining and supporting their strategic plan.

“We’re very excited about how we now show that meetings just aren’t a time to get together,” he said. “They’re a time to improve upon our plan, and to put boots on the ground to make it work.”

Aligning Policies for a Reliable Organization

Building trust in the community means being viewed as a “reliable organization,” notes Dr. Jones. Part of being reliable, he adds, is ensuring that you have core processes you can implement with fidelity. This means not only aligning the district strategic plan with Georgia law and the Georgia State Board of Education rules, but ensuring that policies are aligned, as well.

“We have a person on staff who works with our policies to make sure that whatever we’re doing inside our strategic plan is supported by the policy,” said Dr. Jones. “Simbli is one way for us to do that because we now have rules, policies and regulations that apply to everyone, and they’re in the system for people to go see.”

Staying on Track with Evaluations

Dr. Jones believes that both self-evaluations and superintendent evaluations are important tools for strong governance, and has seen the difference they’ve made at Bibb County.

“Part of the work that our school board has done to improve in its area of governance has been to conduct a self-evaluation,” he said. With the help of the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA), board members were trained on how to use the evaluation tool.

“What we’ve been able to do is take that document and implement it inside Simbli so that it’s there, available for board members,” said Dr. Jones. “We’re able to email it to them, they can complete it on their own. Then we can pull that information back in and once we complete it, we have it for our records and can use it to build action plans for the board.”

The same thing is true of the superintendent’s evaluation, he added. The document is sent to board members so they can complete it on their own. After they come back together to compare notes, Dr. Jones receives the evaluation.

“I think in some ways, it helps the board recognize that the superintendent’s evaluation is important,” he said.

From Quality to Distinguished Board

Due to their hard work and dedication, the Bibb County Board was recognized by GSBA as a Distinguished Board in 2016, advancing from a Quality Board in 2015.

“Our board wanted to be able to demonstrate to the public that they were doing a better job in governance,” said Dr. Jones. “They’ve demonstrated they’re willing to put in extra time, to learn, and to implement what they’ve learned.”

But board members weren’t the only ones who received recognition for their excellent work in the district. Because of his strong leadership, Dr. Jones was named 2019 Georgia Superintendent of the Year, and 2019 National Superintendent of the Year.

Dr. Jones knows that change doesn’t come easily, and he’s encouraged by how far the school system has come in such a short time.

“When I look at the work we’re doing with the superintendent’s evaluation, the self-assessment, policies and regulations, and aligning of our strategic plan, we’re light years ahead of where I thought we would be.”

Hartselle City Schools - Spotlight on Success

Paperless Board Meetings – Making the Move to Digital

hartselle-city-schools-board-meeting-300x180 Paperless Board Meetings - Making the Move to Digital

Paperless Board Meetings

When Dr. Vic Wilson became the superintendent of Hartselle City Schools in July of 2013, one of his first priorities was to evaluate his new surroundings. Personnel, processes, culture, organizational priorities — all garnered his attention as he began his new leadership role in the Alabama district and helped develop and guide the strategy he would employ to help bring success to the students of Hartselle City Schools.

View the Video - Hartselle City Schools Spotlight on Success!
A former high school principal and teacher, Dr. Wilson was no stranger to education, dedicating most of his adult life to helping children learn and succeed. This experience, alongside the assistance of many of the outstanding support staff in the district, helped ensure a smooth transition and played an integral role in the evaluation process.

One of the areas Dr. Wilson knew he could address quickly was improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the district’s school board meetings. A longtime user of Simbli at Mountain Brook High School in Birmingham, Ala., Dr. Wilson knew the kind of impact a board governance software solution like Simbli could make within the district. “When I first assumed the role of superintendent in Hartselle, we had nine copy machines that were in use,” he said. “Those copy machines were getting a workout producing all of the board meeting packets we were distributing for our school board meetings. Right out of the gate, we were able to eliminate almost all the printing we were doing for our board meetings, ultimately saving thousands of dollars each year in printing costs.”

Easy, Effective, and Comprehensive

Recognizing the need to reduce costs and improve meeting efficiency, adopting paperless board meetings and making the move to a digital environment was a high priority for Dr. Wilson. But he also knew it would potentially be a difficult transition for some, both philosophically and tactically. “Many of our board members have different abilities and experiences when it comes to the use of technology,” said Dr. Wilson. “I knew whatever we adopted as our board management solution was going to have to be easy to use and readily available for our board members on any device, any time of the day or night. That’s why I knew Simbli was the clear choice; it’s extremely intuitive and something our board members could easily access via laptop, iPad®, Chromebook™ or mobile device.”

Yet another requirement was the need for a single, comprehensive board management software solution that not only addressed the move to digital via paperless board meetings, but also brought together meetings, planning, policies and evaluations into one easy-to-use board governance solution. “Many software companies focus solely on board meetings,” commented Dr. Wilson. “Simbli provides a one-stop shop for board members, helping the board go well beyond just board meetings. It’s how we look at our policies; how we conduct our board, principal and administrative meetings; it’s where we house and manage our strategic plan; it’s where we house and conduct evaluations for the superintendent, board, administrators, and even teachers. It’s a comprehensive solution that helps us do what we do effectively.”

A Little Something for Everyone

Having used Simbli in the past, Dr. Wilson knew one of the biggest beneficiaries following the district’s adoption of Simbli would be Jan Byrd, administrative assistant to the superintendent and Hartselle’s school board secretary. Byrd uses the software almost daily, developing board agendas, updating board policies, posting meeting minutes, updating the district’s strategic plan and much more. “As soon as I began using the software, I knew immediately it was going to help me tremendously,” said Byrd. “It was a timesaver right from the start. Things that used to take me hours became minutes and I was even able to assign tasks to others who could also help out.” Byrd also benefited from the flexibility and efficiency of placing all of the district’s policies online, as well. “All of the old binders containing our district policies have been placed on a shelf and remain there,” said Byrd. “Not only are we able to update policies on the fly, we’re able to cross reference and link related policies together. Even better, we can provide access to those policies to anyone we wish, including the public.”

Making an Impact on the District

Now more than three years into his tenure as superintendent, Dr. Wilson has achieved great success. Named 2016 Superintendent of the Year in Alabama, he credits Hartselle’s amazing students, teachers, staff and community for working together towards common goals with shared responsibility. He also recognizes the importance of developing partnerships with vendors that can truly help the district improve. “We work with very few vendors,” he said. “They must have a great product, they must be able to sell us something we can’t do ourselves, and it must be a viable product that we can use to move us forward. That’s the very definition of our partnership with Simbli.”