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Guest Blogger Suzanne O'Brien: Trustee Education

One of the five planks in the ISTP 2011-16 Strategic Plan is Board Governance & Leadership.  Trustee education is an important ingredient to sustaining a superior Board that supports the school’s mission through it’s leadership, financial support, and long-term planning.  The first quarter of 2014 found ISTP Trustees engaged in two key educational events – the CAIS Conference and Trustee Visitation Days.

CAIS Conference

In January, five Trustees and Philippe Dietz attended the annual California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) conference in San Francisco.  This event is the largest gathering of independent school Trustees and Heads of Schools in the nation.   The ISTP contingent participated in 18 different classes ranging from the “Annual Legal Update for California Independent Schools” to “Exploring the Future of Assessment.”

Board Chair, Jim Bean, has attended this conference multiple times because it offers “unparalleled access to professional resources in an incredibly efficient format.  The peer networking is also an invaluable way to learn from schools that have gone before us on any number of processes. You realize that other schools are all dealing with the same topics that ISTP is working on – everyone is trying to raise money, everyone is thinking about their strategic plan, etc. For example, as ISTP was embarking on the capital campaign several years ago, it was connections made at the CAIS conference that helped us determine the value of hiring a campaign consultant. We also met a Head of School and trustee from another Bay Area school that was one year into their capital campaign.  They joined us at one of our board meetings to discuss what to expect and how to best manage this process.”

Workshop education led by industry experts, combined with the opportunities to network with trustees from across the country, ensure the ISTP board as a whole is following independent school best practices and individual trustees are able to learn and grow in their various roles on the board.

Trustee Visitation Days

Every year, ISTP schedules “Trustee Visitation Days” - two days for school Trustees to visit different classrooms across divisions and programs.  On March 27-28, Trustees went back to school to observe teacher and student interactions, daily lessons and activities, and gain insight into classroom life at ISTP.

Stephen Kim, Trustee & parent commented, “During my Trustee Visitation day, I had the opportunity to sit in on 5th grade Chinese and 3rd grade math classes. It was speech day for the 5th grade and listening to the speeches made me realize how nerve-wracking speaking in public in a formal way can be, particularly for students so young.  The class did themselves proud though, and I was impressed by their animation and poise in front of a crowd.

1_ Chinese Speech

In 3rd grade math, the class was working on bar graphs, including collecting and collating data and interpreting the information in graph form.  The teacher had the class organize into groups of three, with each group choosing a category and then polling the rest of the class on their favorite item in the category.   The students clearly were into the exercise, as could be seen by the energy and buzz in the room.  Of particular interest seemed to be favorite gems (emeralds were the overwhelming favorite beating out topaz by a wide margin), super powers (showing parity with flying, invisibility and ultrasonic speed all tied) and holidays (a tight race between Christmas and birthdays).”

Lloyd Kurtz, Trustee & parent, spent his morning at the middle school, sitting in on classes in mathematics (6th), science (6th), and history (7th).

“In mathematics, the students were working on a special project on probability, taking survey data they had compiled and generalizing the results to larger populations (one brave student estimated how many people on earth would prefer sandals to Nikes). The science lab focused on studying specimens of the plant equisetum, better known as horsetails. Students examined root structure, noted the unique silicate surface and hollow stalk of the plant, and observed key features under a microscope.

Students in the history class discussed a prior class in which they had some challenging contemporary issues, such as the death penalty. They then discussed possible project topics for future presentation to the class, which included the Lewis & Clark expedition, the War of 1812, and the Louisiana Purchase.

In all three classes the students were prepared, engaged, and enthusiastic. They were challenged by their teachers to not just acquire knowledge about the topic under study, but to gain deeper understanding through experience, observation, and discussion.

A great experience for me, and terrific to see firsthand the quality of education our middle school students receive.”

This was my 4th year visiting classrooms as a Trustee.  Over the years I have observed English classes as well as art, music, science, math, and history in both Chinese and French.  I have witnessed the increasing role and effective integration of technology – from Smartboards to iPads to 1:1 laptops in the middle school – in the classrooms.  I have been continually amazed by the commitment our teachers have to creating engaging and challenging lesson plans that fulfill ISTP’s mission statement.

2_ English Class Collage

For instance, during my visit to Miss Smith’s 7th grade English class this year, the students used the Lord of The Flies as a vehicle to explore themes such as Innocence and Adult Authority.  They collaborated in small groups to identify a book theme and create their own universal statement (including new vocabulary and literary devices) about this theme.  The exercise culminated in a group presentation of their ideas to the class.  It was a wonderful example of critical thinking, reasoning and teamwork all wrapped into a 50-minute class!

The ISTP Board of Trustees is constantly striving to ensure the school’s mission is fulfilled.  The CAIS conference allows the board to stay current with best practices by connecting Trustees with industry experts and trustees at other independent schools.  Trustee Visitation Days provide the Board with the opportunity to see an ISTP education in action, how both programs are able to come together and execute our philosophy, across subjects and curriculum, under one mission and shared core values.

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