Board Collaboration – A Necessary Condition

September 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Board Dynamics, Trust 

In an ongoing series about the role of the school board in closing the achievement gap, I examine one of the conditions needed for the eventual courageous conversations that will need to take place.

Candidate versus School Board Member

When we are on the campaign trail, it easy to advocate for changes to school district. All we need to do is think outside the box, enter into partnerships with business or the community and live within our means. However, after we take office regardless of how committed to our individual ideas for change, learning to be part of a board is the hardest thing to accept. Ultimately, we realize that we can not solve everyone’s problem by our self.

Why Collaboration Is Important

Board collaboration with the superintendent is one of the distinguishing factors of well-governed districts. But why is collaboration so important? The age of accountability has changed the role of the school boards. As a result, boards need to do more than make policy, sit back and oversee the superintendent. Boards need to work with the superintendent to find the right solutions, ask the right questions, and focus on the right issues.

Collaboration doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone agrees all the time. It is easier and less stressful for everyone, but it is not necessary. A thoughtful board president anticipates and plans for conflict. Well drafted policies and protocols keep the board focused and on task during board deliberations. The active practice of give and take that goes beyond simple information sharing in order build consensus is the end product of collaboration.

Reflection Questions

As an individual can you suspend your beliefs in order to hear others’ point of view?

Is your board able to deliberate on controversial matters and maintain a climate of trust and respect?

Does your community believe the board is working in a collaborative matter?


Is Your Board Moving or Stuck?

September 20, 2010 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Board Dynamics 

If you believe school board matters, what are the conditions needed to have a board focused on closing the achievement gap? First, board members need to be knowledgeable about the conditions needed for school change. The 2000 study by the Lighthouse Project of the Iowa Association of School Boards identified seven conditions:

1. Shared leadership – A focus on student learning through a shared clear vision, high expectations, and dynamic leadership at all levels of the district.

2. Continuous Improvement – A continuous focus in improving education, with high levels of involved and shared decision making.

3. Ability to create and sustain initiatives – An understanding of how to organize the people and school environment to start and sustain an improvement effort.

4. Supportive workplace for staff – A supportive workplace that enables all staff to succeed in their roles.

5. Staff development – Regular school wide staff development that is focused on studying teaching and learning.

6. Support for school sites through data and information – Using data and information on student needs to inform decisions and modify actions at the district, school site and classroom level.

7. Community Involvement – A close connection between school, students, parents and the community.

Boards on the Move

  • Board members know what is going on the classroom to improve instruction
  • Board members consistently express their belief all children can learn
  • Board members expressed high levels of confidence in their staff
  • Board members talked receiving information from multiple sources
  • Board members could identify specific ways of involving parents and the community in decision making

Boards that are Stuck

  • Board members are not clear on district goals or how they are related to instruction in the classroom
  • Board members are focused on factors they believe are keeping students from learning such as poverty, lack of parental support or societal factors
  • Board members do not know how staff and administrators interacted on goals and objectives of the district
  • Board members tended to make negative comments about staff
  • Board members expressed concerns about uneven flow of information

Reflection Questions

As an individual board member are you moving or stuck?

If your board did an assessment would they rate themselves as moving or stuck?

Does your community see your board as moving or stuck?


School Boards and the Achievement Gap

September 13, 2010 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Board Dynamics 

In filling out questionnaires from groups asking candidates why they are running for school board, I began to ponder if school boards really matter. Look at the mission and/or vision statements of most school boards and you will see a statement about educating ALL children in some way or form. But if you review your district assessment data, the achievement gaps across racial and class lines are easy to spot. What leadership role does a school board play in closing the gap in their community?

Current Landscape

School board, especially urban ones, are likely to be composed of three types of school board members: 1.) aspiring politicians who seeking higher office, 2.) former employees with a score to settle, and 3.) single cause advocates who want to impose their point of view. Not a good recipe for a forming a coherent governance team focused on student achievement.

Trends in public education reform are centralizing funding at the State and Federal level. National standards are being created with Federal and State accountability models.

Path Forward

The role of a school board is changing. School boards can no longer merely oversee the day to day operations of schools. School boards need to be coleaders in the efforts to improve student achievement. While the school board is dependent on the technical knowledge and leadership of its Superintendent, the Superintendent needs the authority and leadership of the school board to make changes stick.

Reflection Questions

What role do you believe a school board contributes in closing the achievement gap?

School Board
What actions over the past 12 months has your Board taken to close the achievement gap?

If a community member reviewed the agendas from the past 12 months, what agenda items would be directly related to closing the achievement gap?


Board Input to the Theory of Action

May 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Board Dynamics 

Last week we discussed a broader framework for the Board’s role in oversight of your District’s student achievement. The broader framework involved using a Theory of Action to guide the Board. This week we can review a process for the Board to influence the Theory of Action.

Once again, a “theory of action” builds on our beliefs and educational research about how children learn, the conditions that best promote learning, and the policies, management systems, and culture that best promote the commitments and high performance of our employees to serve an economically and demographically diverse student population. It also reflects our commitment to exceed accountability standards at state and federal levels.

Some of the key points for individual Boards to focus on are: your beliefs about how children learn and the policies that promote commitments and high performance of your employees.

When examining your beliefs about how children learn here are some areas to discuss:

1. Active involvement
2. Social participation
3. Meaningful activities
4. Relating new information to prior knowledge
5. Being strategic
6. Engaging in self-regulation and being reflective
7. Restructuring prior knowledge
8. Aiming towards understanding rather than memorization
9. Helping students learn to transfer
10. Taking time to practice
11. Developmental and individual differences
12. Creating motivated learners

The challenge and opportunity for your Board is to develop a consensus around those key beliefs that you want incorporated into the Theory of Action for your school district. With this direction your Superintendent can refine the Theory of Action to represent the unique aspects of your local community. Next we will discuss how the Board develops accountability process for the Theory of Action.


Superintendent Evaulation

March 9, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Board Dynamics 

Next to selecting a new Superintendent. evaluating the superintendent is one of the school board’s most important jobs we face each year. A high quality superintendent evaluation process helps develop good board/superintendent relationships, provides clarity of roles, creates common understanding of the leadership being provided and provides a mechanism for public accountability. The more objective and collaborative the process, the greater likelihood all parties will benefit. So where do we start?

First, especially Boards with newly elected Board members, a review of the Superintendent contract is a good place to start. Most contracts will have a section detailing an evaluation process that establishes time lines for activities to be completed. Second, pick a Board meeting where in Closed Session you can review the time lines, review past practice and agree upon a set of future meetings.

Second, consistently gathering data throughout the year to support our positions regarding the Superintendent’s performance is important. In many cases, the most recent crisis or an isolated event from the last 12 months is what we use to form our opinion of the Superintendent’s performance. Hopefully, your evaluation process includes a pre-performance review written by your Superintendent to help you look at the entire past 12 months of performance. Personally, the best tool I have found is to keep the Superintendent’s weekly communications and then review them when preparing my input of the Superintendent’s performance.

Finally, the ability to craft a consensus opinion of performance that is fair yet provides constructive feedback is an art. In cases where one or two Board members have a serious concern about an area of performance that is not shared with a majority of board members, the ability to acknowledge the concerns of the minority is crucial. The development of these statements rely on the trust behavior of clarifying expectations using the principles of accountability, clarity and responsibility. Typically, performance concerns revolve around not meeting expectations, so we have to ask ourselves if we failed to establish those expectations at the start of the process or are these expectations of an individual not the entire Board.

What are the challenges your Board faces when it prepares your Superintendent evaluation?

Trust Behavior: Clarifying Expectations, Get Better


Effective Governance Teams

February 14, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Board Dynamics, Team Dynamics, Trust 

In our role as a school board member have you ever wished for a place where you could reflect on being a school board member? A place where you collaborate with other school board members? A place to grow and learn to be a more effective board member?

Stephen Covey Sr defines effectiveness lying in the balance between P/PC balance. P stands for production of desired results. PC stands for production capability, the ability or assets that produces the desired results. Applied to school boards, effectiveness lies in our ability to improve student achievement while balancing the needs of students, employees and the community.

The governance team consists of the elected board members and the Superintendent. Individually, each of us provides our own set of values, beliefs and expertise. Collectively, our ability to agree on a common mission and extend trust by designing and aligning systems to oversee public education in our community will determine our effectiveness as a governance team.

With you active participation we can create a professional learning community that increases the effectiveness of our local governance team.