A District Level Perspective On Governance Of A High-Quality School In The Twin Cities

By Anita Moua



Hmong Times started a quest to highlight high-quality charter schools back in April as a way to honor what schools have been providing for the children in our community during this pandemic. In the event that you followed us, you will notice that the state recognized high-quality charter school, Noble Academy, has been featured on numerous occasions and many of their stakeholders’ views have been shared. It is now time to take a look at what happens at the district level and how that impacts a high performing school altogether.

The public may not always recognize what the senior leadership and the school board does at the district level that allows for better learning outcomes for scholars, but a deeper dive into what the school board regularly engages in can provide a better understanding for the public.

We spoke with Deputy Superintendent, Dr. Chang, and asked her what qualifications are considered when recruiting for board members. She explained, “Effective school board members contribute their unique skills and perspectives, while collaborating and working as a team with other board members. We look for individuals with background areas in law and policies, Human Resources, financial management, leadership, and organizational management/facility management. All board members go through a background check process and all participate in initial and ongoing training.” Mr. Neal Thao, Superintendent, also shared, “We are extremely grateful for such great school board members who focus on what is best for all of our students. Serving as a member on the school board of directors calls for great passion and commitment as this is on a voluntary basis.”

General meetings are held once a month, in addition to any other special or emergency meetings. Meetings are accessible to the public. Meeting notices and board information are clearly posted on a bulletin board in the school lobby area and the school’s website.

The board considers items such as contracts, policy, formal relationships, selection of vendors and staff raises at its meetings. The board sets performance expectations consistent with the charter contract and reviews the school’s academic, financial, operational, and environmental education performance. The board also reviews quality financial statements provided by the schools’ business manager monthly.

We had the opportunity to interview a few of the current board members and this is what they had to share about serving on the board:

Board Member Name: Chai Vang, Teacher

Talk about what it’s like governing a high quality charter school district.

Governing a high quality charter school has been a humbling experience. As a group we are responsible for making sure Noble is delivering on its mission and vision; voting on strategic decisions that will affect the academic, fiscal, and organizational health and sustainability of the organization. This is my first year serving on the board and it has been a great learning experience. I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about our school and charter schools in general.

What sparked your interest in joining and continuing to work with Noble Academy.

I first started working with Noble in 2016 teaching Kindergarten. Since then I have been given numerous opportunities to grow professionally to support the students to their full potential. These opportunities are what drives me to continue to work with Noble.

What is the school board’s role in the success of the school?

The school board’s role in the success of the school is to ensure that the academic and financial health of the school is on the right track. In addition to this we have an annual evaluation of school leaders. All board meetings at the minimum include a review of monthly financial reports and academic performance.

How does the board hold the school accountable to academic standards?

Teachers compile a monthly data report of academic performance for the month to review at board meetings. We look at how students are progressing or how and where our students are struggling. Data reports have an end of the year goal so we are able to track progress to see if students are on track for success.

Board Member Name: Shawn Yang, Parent

Talk about what it’s like governing a high quality charter school district.

It has been an interesting and a humbling experience. We have had to deal with spontaneous situations and work through challenges as they come up. All in all, the district’s high standards have set the bar for how we deal with situations and how we come up with plans to continue to provide the high quality education our students are receiving.

It has always been in my subconscious to serve in education. Early in my career I worked as an Educational Assistant while in school, but moved on to the business field. I currently run two businesses, while serving on this board and other boards. Personally, I concentrate on serving the Hmong community. I see charter schools as a hybrid between public and private schools as it is very comparable to some of the best private schools out there, yet it’s tuition-free. I want our students to be able to look back to the school down the road and be proud to say where they attended school, and how it has helped to shape them.

What is the school board’s role in the success of the school?

We strive to support the teachers and the administrators by giving input toward better educational systems, and overall we influence the decision making process of the school in terms of policies and school-wide issues. We pay close attention to the district’s priorities for academic achievement.

How does the board hold the school accountable to academic standards?

One way of holding the district accountable is through having measurable benchmarks. We also compare how our students are doing to other districts, and mimic strategies that work for us. We want to provide an intellectually rigorous and relevant learning experience for all students. We want them to be high achievers so they not only aim for the U of M, but also Harvard.

Board Member Name: Nua Xiong, Secretary

Talk about what it’s like governing a high quality charter school district.

As a parent of a student at Noble, I had no idea how hard the staff here worked to get the school to where it’s at until I joined the board. Serving as a board member has made me more appreciative of public schools. I am thrilled to be a part of the decision-making team that ultimately impact academic outcomes.

What sparked your interest in joining and continuing to work with Noble Academy.

I willingly volunteer my time to serve on the board because I am focused on supporting the Hmong community, particularly our Hmong students. This wonderful opportunity has provided me with a different view on educational systems.

What is the school board’s role in the success of the school?

The board’s role is to work as a team to make decisions that will affect the welfare of the school, this includes selecting the right staff for the right seats (especially teachers), collaborating to ensure the right policies are put in place and the school is partnered with the right vendors. We make sure the school is heading in the right direction that allows students to perform their best.

How does the board hold the school accountable to academic standards?

We make sure there is enough support to encourage teachers to do well, so students can also do well. For example, we try to set aside a budget for bonuses where staff can earn if school wide academic goals are met.

Well qualified educators can raise student achievement; however, the quality of leadership at the district level is equally important as leadership in the classroom. It is crucial to acknowledge the importance of the broader, regulatory environment because what happens in the classroom reflects what happens at the district level. A high-quality school does not happen by accident, but requires great leadership and commitment from different levels. School board members deserve to be applauded for their contribution to the success of high performing schools.

Shaun Yang

Chai Vang