50 Years of Developing a High Functioning School District Through Governance and Policy

Updated: Apr 1


INFORM-MTSD_Board_of_Education_History_2021
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Summary

Since its inception, the Mequon-Thiensville School Board has been a governance board, managing the District through policy. Over the years, successive boards fine-tuned the concepts of governance, policy, and the role of the Board. This evolution is the key reason why MTSD has historically been a top performing District in Wisconsin and the country.


The Beginning


In September 1959, Thiensville-Mequon Union High School District No. 1 formed to operate the high school for Mequon and Thiensville. The high school-only district was soon renamed Homestead, in reference to the land purchased in 1958. The land was owned by the Frank family for over one hundred years dating back to the end of the Black Hawk War of 1832.


The first Superintendent was Dr. Merton V. Campbell. Dr. Campbell was hired to oversee construction, hire staff, and organize the fledgling district. Initially, Homestead had only freshman and sophomore classes, adding one more grade in each of the next two years to round out a full complement of four grades by academic year 1961-62. The sophomores who began in 1959 were the first class to graduate in June 1962.


At this time, Mequon-Thiensville had two K-8 Districts. A 1972 referendum approved the consolidation of the high school and two K-8 elementary districts into a single K-12 district, the Mequon-Thiensville School District (MTSD).


After consolidation of the districts, Dr. Campbell was asked to stay on as Superintendent of the new MTSD. The Superintendents of the two former K-8 districts were retained as Assistant Superintendents.


The old union high school district board served as the board for the new district until a K-12 board could be elected. In spring of 1973 seven members were elected to the new Board of Education (Board).


The name “Highlanders” was adopted by the School Board because the school sits on high ground. Additionally, since Dr. Campbell was of Scottish heritage, Homestead ended up with the Scottish Highlander mascot and the tartan plaid.


Governance Through Policy


MTSD has always been, and is still, a governance board. Collective and agreed upon Board goals and expectations are made clear through policy. The superintendent is responsible for enacting the policies of the district. Strategic planning is a collaborative effort between the community, the Board, and the superintendent.


The Board has used policy to govern the district from its inception. The policies of the high school district and the two elementary districts were used to develop the policies for the K-12 district. Policy development was overseen by the Board and policy implementation was managed by the Board and staff. Once the new K-12 district Board adopted and adapted the prior districts' policies, new policies were created as needed. Staff also participated through review and revision of staff-initiated policy for the Board to consider.


Throughout the next 5 decades, the board continued its governance through policy.



Role of the Board and Policy Implementation


Since the formation of MTSD, the principal roles of the Board have been to:


1. Establish policies;

2. Set goals (now strategic planning);

3. Hire and contract a Superintendent, and evaluate Superintendent’s performance; and

4. Approve an annual budget.


The Board accomplished this by:

  • Striving to make prudent fiscal decisions about spending the District’s scarce resources.

  • Providing direction and leadership for the District and the Superintendent.

  • Emphasizing all Board members are stewards for the District, with an obligation to protect and preserve our excellent school system for the benefit of the children in school at the time and for those to follow in the coming years.

  • Fostering positive relationships with administrators, teachers, parents and other community members and taxpayers.

The Board recognized the Superintendent as responsible for the day-to-day operations through implementation of policy. The Superintendent reported to the Board, in particular the Board President. It was the Superintendent’s responsibility to hire an administrative team with expertise in their respective fields to develop a high achieving District.


The Board adopted various policies based on recommendations from WASB (Wisconsin Association of School Boards), legal counsel, and the superintendent. In the early 2000’s, the Board reviewed and adopted various NEOLA policies. NEOLA is a policy support organization.

By the mid 2000’s, the Board began updating Board policies through the formation of a policy committee and NEOLA was brought in formally to assist with establishing this committee.


In 2008-09 the Board cultivated its role as a governance body, beginning with deliberate Board governance development, language, and focus.


In 2011-12, the Board committed to a complete policy review, and in 2012 the Board renewed the Policy Committee as a Standing Committee. All policy was reviewed to assure alignment with governance practices and vice versa.


In April 2016, the Board and the Policy Committee was recognized in a statewide Wisconsin Association of School Boards publication, Focus, for their leadership in board governance and work on policy.


The Board has continued to assess, build, and fine tune policy as needed. Ongoing policy review is important as that is the mechanism for ensuring the District is run according to the Board’s and community’s goals and expectations.


Consensus and the Work of the Board


Prior to voting on issues, the Board studies the issue or topic - understanding both the known facts and what might be unknown about the matter. The Board often receives and requests information and research from the Superintendent and other administrators to start this process. The Board will hold Working Meetings to discuss the issue as a Board and with administrators. They will read lengthy reports and hear from specialists. This process can take months before an actionable proposal is ever developed. The Board may ask the administration for more information or other options throughout the process.


Once a proposal for action is made by the administration, the Board will collectively, in open meetings or through individual conversations with the Superintendent, continue to question and challenge the proposal. This is a key component and necessary aspect of a healthy, collaborative relationship between the Board and the Superintendent.


The effort of the Board to get to this point is why you will often see unanimous votes as this work can lead to a consensus among the Board. All Board members have had an opportunity to impact the proposal over time as they see fit, and therefore are able to support it. If last minute issues are raised, they are discussed. While the Board generally achieves consensus, especially for straightforward actions, they are also able to move forward after non-unanimous decisions recognizing once a vote is taken, it becomes the will of the Board.



What Makes An Effective Board Member?


√ Comes to the Board with an open mind, without agendas, and is non-partisan in decision making.


√ Has an inquisitive mind.


√ Able to make decisions based on facts and established research.


√ Understands role is principally to set policy and establish a budget while resisting the urge to micromanage.


√ Not afraid to make tough decisions and stick with them, but also not afraid to change their minds about issues if persuaded by the facts.


√ Able to always inform themselves about the issues, recognizing there are multiple sides to most issues, that reasonable people might often disagree, and that seldom are the answers black and white.


√ Understands and supports the “will of the Board,” meaning whether an individual Board member agrees with the outcome of a vote or not, they respect the Board as an entity and support implementation of the decision.


√ Is honest and willing to respect and work with other board members and administrators in a collegial manner.


√ Understands the importance and role of public education and supported public education.


√ Takes the time to understand the difficult and challenging work done by administrators, teachers and other staff.


√ Is both supportive of qualified administrators and unafraid to ask tough questions and challenge assumptions.


√ Is committed to acting as stewards and in the best long-term interests of the district, recognizing the need to balance the interests of students, parents and other taxpayers, and are at a basic level truly motivated by the best interests of the students.


√ Willing to invest the time and energy to learn about the District and how it operates.


√ Has or had children in the District, a history of involvement in the District, or is interested in education.


√ Will always be prepared for school board meetings and familiar with each meeting agenda and relevant reports.



Credit


This story is the consolidation of knowledge from long-time School Board members and Board Presidents. At Inform’s request, David Hase, Peter Stone, and Stephanie Clark provided information and recollections.


Inform thanks Mr. Hase, Mr. Stone and Mrs. Clark for their service and their continued wisdom and support.


A few historical bits were borrowed from a 2014 story from Highlander Publications. https://homesteadhighlanderonline.com/4138/feature/history-of-the-highlander/

Published by Inform Mequon Thiensville

InformMT.org

October 17, 2021

Homestead High School, circa late 1970's - early 1980's.



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