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School Board Fieldbook, The: Leading With Vision

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Take a reader-friendly tour through the responsibilities and challenges of being a school board member. Written by experienced, award-winning administrators, The School Board Fieldbook gives practical guidance on how to best work with school administrators and staff to create and fulfill a shared vision of school system excellence. This clear, concise book helps new board members understand the difference between their expectations and actual duties.

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Chapter 1: The Learning Curve: What Makes Serving on a School Board Unique?

ePub

As a new board member, you may be told that there’s always a “learning curve” before board service becomes familiar and intuitive. That’s true. In fact, your previous experiences probably don’t translate easily into your new role because board service is so different, and often counterintuitive.

Consider, for example, the fact that a board member cannot simply call or email the rest of the board and “work things out.” In most states, open-meeting laws dictate when and how board members can communicate with each other. These laws ensure that the work of the schools is as public as possible. But by so doing, public laws restrict boards in ways that don’t make your work any easier.

You may have decided to become a board member because you had an idealistic wish to serve the community. After all, you’re taking on a job that will demand a lot of your time and energy, for no material gain whatsoever. Yet you’ll confront very difficult decisions that often won’t be clear to the public, and you’ll seldom, if ever, be complimented for your hard work and selfless service. In fact, just the opposite: You’ll likely hear from at least a few angry parents and disgruntled neighbors before your board tour is up!

 

Chapter 2: Three Roles Essential to Every School System

ePub

One of the hardest things to get used to as a new member is that board service isn’t nearly the smooth and efficient process you may have thought it would be, especially if in your professional life, you were the creator of (or at least part of) an efficient, well-oiled business, organization, or home. You and other board members will spend a lot of time simply organizing how your board is going to spend its time, and it will seem that no one completely “owns” the entire process.

That’s because no one does. Neither a board nor the school district staff can achieve their individual ends without the support of the other. A board works in collaboration with school district staff, especially the superintendent, who is the board’s proxy in directing and deploying staff.

It all begins to make sense when we consider the necessarily different roles of the board and of school time management and resource procurement and allocation.

Understanding the Strategic, Tactical, and Operational Roles

 

Chapter 3: Communication Is Key

ePub

If being efficient means the school board can act as it sees fit and not worry about anyone affected by its decisions, then serving on the board is anything but, given the legal, political, and practical constraints on the board’s actions. Because of these constraints, it’s more important how the board conducts its business than what that business is. The most critical part concerns how, when, and why the board communicates with tactical, operational, parent, and community groups, all of whose support your board will need to provide strategic leadership.

Communication takes care and time, which you must build into the board’s working schedule. Many boards will find they spend more time—and more productive time—communicating the background to and reasons for their decisions than they will making them. That may seem counterintuitive, but any successful leader knows that decisions alone change nothing. People change things, but only if decisions are communicated to them in ways that they can understand and relate to. Thus, the key to board leadership is your ability to persuasively communicate decisions, not just the power to make them. As the strategic leader of a school district, your board needs to communicate so that individuals in various roles can understand, relate to, and carry out the board’s strategic decisions.

 

Chapter 4: 10 Signals That Your Board Is in Trouble

ePub

Because the board has a 50,000-foot view, it won’t see all of the tactical and, especially, the operational dynamics within the school district. The board’s perspective is like looking at the outside of an anthill and trying to guess how many ants are underneath and what they’re doing. But many boards feel they have 20/20 vision at every level of the school district because they see so clearly at their strategic level. But boards don’t have 20/20 vision at all levels—no one in the school district does. And what the board can’t see often affects, directly or indirectly, the successful implementation of its strategic vision and goals.

So what can you and other board members do with limited organizational vision? First, recognize that you don’t need to see everything. Others have 20/20 vision at their levels for you, especially when all roles are working in an aligned, collaborative way. Conversely, the tactical and operational roles need your 20/20 strategic vision to provide the proper context to their work. When strategic, tactical, and operational roles are aligned, the entire school district has 20/20 vision.

 

Chapter 5: Data—A Critical Tool for Your School Board

ePub

To make good strategic decisions, school boards need good information. Although this may seem an obvious fact, school districts often ignore it. Instead, they frequently make decisions based upon what is easiest to do, what costs the least, what “we’ve always done,” or what they believe to be best. Occasionally, a little more rigor is applied to the process: “I heard about it at another school district,” “I read that this approach is really good,” “My best friend [or neighbor] swears by it,” “This is what parents [or the community] want(s).” These decision-making rationales won’t result in systematic choices that align school district initiatives because they lack an essential ingredient: good data. For our purposes, “data” refers to outcomes expressed numerically to show that something has happened (or not happened) as planned. A few examples of such data are student test scores, percentages based upon survey responses, budget information, demographic information on students, and types and numbers of courses offered.

 

Chapter 6: Four Common Issues in Board Service

ePub

In this chapter, we discuss four common issues that come before school boards to illustrate how the strategic and tactical roles can work in an aligned and coordinated fashion. We’re not attempting to suggest that “one size fits all,” for each situation that a board confronts is unique in terms of its setting, personalities, and the school culture. We also don’t attempt to identify all the possible considerations that might arise for your particular school district.

Our focus in this book is on the board and its interaction with the superintendent and other tactical staff, but the operational role is just as important in contributing to a school district’s success. No school district policies are likely to succeed, particularly with children at the classroom level, if your board hasn’t first taken into account operational concerns. Although this chapter’s discussions don’t account for operational staff, student, parent, or community influences, these influences should be a legitimate part of a more thorough discussion of each issue.

 

Chapter 7: The Ethics of Board Service

ePub

If only the board can assume a strategic role, why do so many board members abandon that role and venture into a tactical role? Table 7-1 summarizes the reasons we’ve discussed. But once you understand your board role as part of a complex, collaborative system, you’ll see the true value and power of your strategic role for making a poor school district into a good one and a good one into a great one.

Once you accept your role as a member of the school district team, you’ll be free to devote your time and energy to the one thing that only you and other board members can do successfully: to assume strategic leadership and demonstrate that leadership through developing strategic charges. And once you accept both the potential and the limits of the strategic role, you’ll become essential to any improvement effort by the school district and highly desirable as both a leader and as a symbol of aligned, sustained, and effective school district change.

Table 7-1: Why Many Board Members Abandon Their Strategic Role

 

Appendices

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Appendices

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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to download these reproducibles.

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Communication Structures and Processes

Collaborative Leadership Structures

Rick Stiggins’ EDGE Analysis of Assessment System Users and Uses

Implications for the Assessment System Goal: Student Achievement Indicator: Illinois Standards Achievement Test

Adapted from Stiggins, R. (2006, November-December). Assessment FOR learning: A key to motivation and achievement. Phi Delta Kappan EDge, 2(2), 1–20.

Classroom Communication Boards

This classroom communication board allows the sixth-grade team at an elementary school to see data and metrics aligned to school and district improvement goals. Some data show how a group of sixth-grade students did in the fourth and fifth grades so that their educational growth can be studied. The board translates goals into grade-level metrics and targets that guide the team’s action plans. In this way, the communication board gives meaning to the work that team members do.

 

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