• by Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • November – December 2014 •Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed.

Interview with Velma Vela Ybarra 

On key responsibilities of a school board

I have been an educator for 38 and a half years serving children as teacher, vice principal and central office administrator in Crystal City and in the Harlandale school district. I decided to run for the school board because no women had served for the last 10 years and as a Latina it is a benefit for a school board member to have a background in education. My youngest son graduated from Harlandale High School, and I also have five grandchildren in the school district, so I have a vested deep interest in their education.

The key responsibilities of a school board are, first, they must be cognizant of the community that they are serving. They also have to focus on learning and student achievement — making sure the resources are meeting the prioritized needs of the district and making sure we are investing our tax dollars efficiently and that any decisions we make on allocating those resources are always based on data.

The two key responsibilities that I would hope community members would say that define me and that I take seriously are: (1) tracking the learning: looking at how kids, especially those who are struggling the most, how they are progressing, looking at data making sure we are providing a grand education for them, and (2) tracking the dollar: the fiduciary responsibility to make sure that if the community has entrusted us to take care of the tax dollars that we likewise are making frugal decisions on how we using that money and investing.

On monitoring the progress and support of students

Approximately 20 percent of our students districtwide are English learners and growing. The success of children in the special education and ESL programs are of special concern to me. One of the very first requests I made was that we look at tracking monthly how many of our English learners and special education children were leaving us before they attained their high school diploma. We looked at the quality of our dual language program and providing resources.

For example, this year, we provided in direct and indirect dollars, $800,000 for materials to supplement instruction. We looked carefully at the numbers of teachers who are bilingual and ESL trained and certified because of the need that has been determined by the data. We have children in that special population who are struggling, and we have a commitment to make it better.

We have excellent dedicated teachers and principals who are aware of these findings and who provide the focus to improve our success rate with them. We get professional development, intervention specialists to work with the children when they wind up in trouble, using our early warning system where we look on how all kids, especially our ELL and special education students, are doing in terms of attendance and pass rates. And we use all of that data to make sure that we get our interventionists and our reading specialists and to provide staff development for our teachers who are faced with incredible challenges with curriculum and rigor required.

On budgeting resources

We are blessed with a balance that allows us to have resources. However when we are faced with an X amount of dollars and many, many needs we always look from the classroom out. The dollars first have to go to staffing and meeting the requirements in the classroom. Another challenge is improving technology. When we are pressed by budget limitations, we work from the classroom out.

On advice for potential school board members

If someone were to consider running for the school board – I would especially advise Latina women to get involved — they should participate and consider running for public office. There will be challenges. Sometimes we, as women, have to lean in a little more and it might be considered aggressive. But if you don’t lean in, you miss the opportunity to advocate, firmly, for the things you believe should be done in a more effective way.

Eight Characteristics of an Effective School Board

  • Effective school boards commit to a vision of high expectations for student achievement and quality instruction and define clear goals toward that vision
  • Effective school boards have strong shared beliefs and values about what is possible for students and their ability to learn, and of the system and its ability to teach all children at high levels.
  • Effective school boards are accountability driven, spending less time on operational issues and more time focused on policies to improve student achievement.
  • Effective school boards have a collaborative relationship with staff and the community and establish a strong communications structure to inform and engage both internal and external stakeholders in setting and achieving district goals.
  • Effective boards are data savvy; they embrace and monitor data, even when the information is negative, and use it to drive continuous improvement.
  • Effective school boards align and sustain resources, such as professional development, to meet district goals.
  • Effective school boards lead as a united team with the superintendent, each from their respective roles, with strong collaboration and mutual trust.
  • Effective school boards take part in team development and training, sometimes with their superintendents, to build shared knowledge, values and commitments for their improvement efforts.

Dervarics, C. and E. O’Brian. “Eight Characteristics of Effective School Boards,” the Center for Public Education (Alexandria, VA: The Center for Public Education, 2011).

Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., is a senior education associate in IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

Velma Vela Ybarra is an educator and school board member for Harlandale ISD in San Antonio, Texas. Ms. Ybarra discusses her experience as a school board member and the responsibilities of the board.

[©2014, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the November-December 2014 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]