Developing Your Governing Capacity

By Doug Eadie

Every school board and superintendent have a clear choice in determining your “governing design”—the board’s role, structure and processes. You can inherit the board of the past, taking the path of least resistance and minimum pain, but that choice ensures that the board can’t get much better at doing its critical governing work.

The choice I recommend is one made by the Teton County School District in Jackson, Wyo. Take the initiative in developing your board’s governing capacity, drawing on advances in the rapidly changing field of public and nonprofit governance.

The least effective way to develop your governing capacity, in my experience, is to put the board through some kind of training program that leaves current structure and processes in place. Not much better is hiring a consultant to fashion recommendations for improving the board’s structure and processes and then attempting to sell the board on the improvements. In this case, board members often will fail to own the recommended improvements and, therefore, will be unlikely to implement them.

A far more effective approach is to create a task force of board members and the superintendent to develop the practical steps necessary to strengthen the board’s governing capacity. This is the route that the Teton County school board and superintendent chose to follow—with tremendous success.

Last November, at a special work session, the board approved a number of actions aimed at turning already good, dedicated trustees into an even higher-impact governing body. By formal resolution, members unanimously adopted a “Board Governing Mission” that spelled out their principal governing functions, added three standing board committees (Governance, Planning and Development, and Performance Monitoring/External Relations), and adopted a set of guidelines for standing committee operations.

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