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Charter Board Partners

Florida Applies Federal CSP Funds to Board Training

July 08, 2018 | by David Connerty-Marin

Jenna Hodgens has been a part of authorizing many charter schools in her 16 years as General Director for Charter Schools with Hillsborough County Public Schools, based in Tampa, Florida. She has also closed more schools than she would have liked.

“One of the things I’ve seen is that bad governance produces bad schools and good governance produces good schools,” says Hodgens. “It really does have a direct impact. Even if you close a school for low student achievement or for fiscal mismanagement, it always goes back to the board.”

So when the Florida Department of Education was looking for a charter school authorizer to pilot a program to strengthen governance on charter school boards, Hodgens jumped at the opportunity. The department used federal Charter Schools Program grant funds to support this innovative project.

In an era when charter school board training is often provided online,the CBP program is exactly what Hodgens had  hoped for: “I want to see strong governance training, face-to-face training, and interaction among my boards,” she says. 

Hodgens and Debbie Lister, CBP’s Chief Governance and Program Operations Officer, worked together to design a series of trainings that included: 

  • CBP’s signature day-long Governance Academy which was tailored to the local region.
  • Three evening trainings that focused on topics of interest to board members, such as monitoring the overall health of the school, organizing the board for maximum effectiveness, school leader evaluation and support, and operating under the state’s Sunshine Laws.
  • Networking opportunities that allow board members from different schools to meet each other and share ideas, experiences, and resources.

Hillsborough County Public Schools has more than 50 charter schools. Of the district’s 220,000 public school students, 22,000—or 10 percent—are in charter schools.

Attendance has been strong, with more than 30 people at each training session. Hodgens says the events are the right mix of information, group work, and networking, and that Lister provides helpful, real-life examples.

“I’d like to see really strong boards that are holding their schools accountable, and schools showing greater student achievement as a result,” Hodgens says. “That’s the ultimate goal: student achievement. CBP has had a huge impact in our school district so far. If we keep on this path we’re going to see stronger boards and stronger outcomes.”

The state is paying attention to what’s happening in Hillsborough County. Hodgens has been sharing her feedback with the state Department of Education, which in turn has been sharing information about the pilot program  with educators in other Florida counties. Nearby Polk County recently started a similar project with CBP, and the Department is encouraging more authorizers to do the same. Other states are also looking at  using  a portion of their federal Charter School Program funds for the same purpose.

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