Janet Tilley, center, leads the St. Joseph School District Board of Education summer retreat Thursday at emPowerU.

Members of the St. Joseph School District’s Board of Education took part in an annual retreat Thursday where they identified strengths, weaknesses and priorities for the district going forward.

The meeting, led by Janet Tilley, the director for board development with the Missouri School Board Association, had members of the board talking about specific priorities they’d like to address in the district and in the board itself. These involved practices of trust and communication as well as fostering the mission of the district to serve and educate all students.

“One of the attributes of a really strong, good, effective school board is that they know that they have to engage in ongoing professional development just as teachers and administrators do,” Tilley said. “In order to be an effective board and district, you’ve got to be very clear about what the targets are, what the goals are and what we need to all work on together. So they need to have a conversation where they collaboratively identify what those goals are, but you want to narrow it to about three (priorities), because if you have more than that, the law of diminishing returns will tell you that you won’t accomplish anything.”

It’s a sentiment that School Board President Seth Wright agreed with wholeheartedly, saying that too many goals leads to too few accomplishments.

“When everything’s a priority, nothing’s a priority,” Wright said. “So we have to set a priority and a goal, and how we can accomplish that. And if we’re trying to do too many things and be all things to all people, then we’re not going to be able to accomplish those. So we have to set a clear list of priorities and a list of goals and ways to accomplish that for next year.”

Governance structure and responsibilities also were discussed, as conversations occasionally took a more open, candid approach.

In the end, Tilley said the purpose of a school district is to serve and educate children, period. However, she did acknowledge the struggles and obstacles that come with such a goal, citing both issues and finance and governing.

“There were some deep issues in St. Joseph that had to be dealt with in the last three or four years. Those issues are being addressed and are continuing to be focused on, and so now the board needs to really direct their energies not so much inward, but really outward,” Tilley said. “You have to learn to be honest, open and straightforward, but to do it in a respectful manner, and that is a skill that they have learned and are implementing, which is really to the benefit of their governance, but mostly a benefit to your kids (in the school district).

Further along in the retreat, board members worked on defining key priorities while coming up with an effective metric to hold themselves accountable. This involved talking with each other and working on effective strategies to encourage transparency, not just with the community, but with each other.

“In the past, a lot of stuff wasn’t open and transparent with the public,” Wright said. “And part of being open and transparent with a board like this is also being open and transparent with each other and being able to have those difficult conversations. This board is committed to tackling difficult decisions that maybe have been kicked down the road in the past. Sometimes those discussions are not easy. But this board is committed to doing the right thing to moving this district forward.”

Daniel Cobb can be reached

at daniel.cobb@newspressnow.com.

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