Cleburne ISD school board president John Finnell is among 30 Trustees from across the state being honored this weekend by the Texas Association of School Boards.
Finnell, who was elected to his second term on the CISD Board of Trustees in May, is ending a year-long study program as a member of the Leadership TASB Class of 2018. He chose to take his service as a Trustee to the next level in applying for the board leadership and development program.
“This whole process has opened my eyes to issues and concerns faced by public school districts—and their governing boards—across the state,” Finnell said. “That’s why I got into Leadership TASB. One of the things I have learned since becoming a Trustee is how much I don’t know. It’s a revelation all board members experience.”
“Trustees are required to have some continuing education annually,” he said. “But that only scratches the surface. I wanted to learn as much as I could in taking advantage of this opportunity. It has expanded my exposure to the challenges we face in Cleburne as well as those districts across the state are facing. I also believed working with other trustees and sharing and collaborating about our experiences would make me a better school board member.”
Finnell’s participation in Leadership TASB has taken him to school districts near and far and teamed him with fellow board members from the smallest of Texas public school systems to the largest.
“It’s been a great experience and extremely informative,” he said. “I have gained so much insight in visiting other districts and hanging out with trustees from districts of all sizes. Cleburne ISD is in good shape compared to a lot of districts. We have our challenges, but we lack what a lot of districts face.”
His travels with fellow Leadership TASB trustees included site visits to the Texas City and Galveston school districts following Hurricane Harvey. A session in Midland/Odessa had Trustees meeting with a state demographer for a presentation on current trends in the Texas population and how demographic shifts can impact school districts. The trustee team also visited Ector County ISD schools and learned about the interventions being made in the district to assist campuses with low performance ratings.
“The visit to Midland/Odessa was very insightful,” Finnell said. “We also traveled to El Paso and toured Tornillo ISD and a neighboring colonia. The kids in that village are so thankful to go to school. It was very interesting to see all these different learning environments and to speak with their constituencies.”
Topics and tasks for trustees ranged from a focus on public versus charter schools to a book study. The class of 2018 toured the border wall dividing El Paso from Juarez, Mexico. They attended lectures by nationally known speakers, receiving strategies and techniques to better include all children and all families in the education process and gained insight from an expert on generational differences.
Each member was also involved in an extended learning assignment, as they were divided into committees to research a particular issue relating to public education in Texas. The final assignment for Finnell and his peers will be to make their committee presentations before representatives from TASB and the Texas Association of School Administrators who will assess and critique their work.
“Several of these presentations are typically selected for sessions at upcoming school board conferences,” Finnell said. “For the first time ever, all five of our teams will be given the floor at the next TASB Winter Conference to present.”
Finnell’s committee was assigned to conduct an in-depth study of the A-F accountability system adopted by the state as the new measurement of academic performance of districts and campuses. His contribution to the committee’s project is to analyze the fairness of the measurement process.
“We need to be focused on student progress, and measuring that progress,” he said. “But there must be better ways than the new A-F system. I want to help figure out how we can make sure we are having an impact on kids and bringing them along sooner.”
Through his Leadership TASB experiences, knowledge gained and personal study, Finnell has developed a passion for the educating of early learners and how that can impact their success in school.
“I love we are offering full-day pre-kindergarten for students who are eligible,” he said. “I wish we could partner with the community to have pre-K for all kids. I feel a real calling for those early learners—they are our future. The earlier we can get to kids, the sooner we can address reading and learning skills.”
“Leadership TASB has definitely shaped my point of view as to what we should be focused on as a district,” he said. “It’s also shown me all I don’t know as a Trustee. We have a great school system, school board and executive cabinet, led by Dr. Kyle Heath as superintendent. I know I want to do more as a trustee and together, as a board.”
Finnell also said he has witnessed improvement in the District since he was first elected to the school board in 2015.
“I’ve seen tremendous improvement since I’ve been on the Board,” he said. “We’ve gotten so much done for kids—and we need to celebrate that. As trustees, we need to advocate what good things public schools are doing at the state and national levels.”
The graduation ceremony of the Leadership TASB Class of 2018 will be among the highlights of the TASB Fort Worth Summer Learning Institute taking place this weekend involving new and veteran school board members.
Leadership TASB participants who complete all required elements of study in the year-long program will earn the “Master Trustee” status. For Finnell, what he has gained extends well beyond the designation.
“This process has given me a different prospective as a board member,” he said. “It’s taught me, as a trustee, the value of collaboration with the board and the CISD staff in working as a team and the importance of staying current as advocates for public education and in promoting and marketing Cleburne ISD and Cleburne.”
In addition to his new duties as president of the CISD governing body, Finnell also plans to continue his involvement with Leadership TASB and fellow graduates as a member of its Alumni organization.
“I will continue to collaborate with trustees across the state and can serve on TASB and TEA Education Service Center Committees,” he said. “Part of our role is to raise money for school districts for trustee scholarships to Leadership TASB. It’s a huge personal commitment, but it will provide networking opportunities and more opportunities to do things in the name of public education.”
“This has made me a better trustee,” Finnell said. “I will also be a better advocate for Cleburne and public education in Austin. Mission accomplished in that aspect.”
TASB is a voluntary, non-profit association established in 1949 to serve local Texas school boards. School board members are the largest group of publicly elected officials in the state. The districts they represent serve more than 5.3 million public school students.
A month after honoring graduates at Cleburne High School Commencement Exercises, CISD School Board President John Finnell is being honored as a graduate of the Texas Association of School Board’s Leadership TASB Class of 2018. He was among 30 trustees from Texas school districts large and small selected for the year-long education leadership study program.