Superintendents' New Role

By Doug Eadie

Sitting across the table from a former high school classmate a few weeks ago-- at my class reunion in the small southern Illinois town where I grew up-- I mentioned that I really enjoyed working with school districts around the country, helping them build solid board-superintendent partnerships.

His visceral reaction caught me by surprise. He gave me an earful:

“You know, Doug, I’ve lived a lot of places over the years, and I’ve seen more than one school district run into trouble trying to deal with big issues, like getting a tax levy passed, or-- and this was a real horror story that seemed to go on forever-- redrawing school boundaries,” he said. “From what I’ve seen over the past 40 years, the reason so many districts botch up the biggies is superintendents who don’t treat their boards like real partners.”

My friend served two terms on a school board in Indiana. The experience left him bitter.

“When I ran the first time, I conjured up an inspiring image of me and the other board members sitting with the superintendent and his top lieutenants in strategy sessions, deciding what the big challenges we needed to focus on were and figuring out what to do. I’d gotten involved in some pretty exciting strategic planning in my business, and I relished the thought of bringing what I’d learned about strategy to the district boardroom. You can imagine how I felt when my participation in strategic planning ended up being periodic updates from our superintendent on the progress staff were making and then, in a half-day work session, sitting through the superintendent’s presentation of our strategic targets for the next five years.

“At best, in my experience, lots of superintendents treat their boards as an audience and try to keep them busy listening and reading, and, at worst, they see them as some kind of threat they’ve got to contain,” he said. “‘Never again’ is what I said to myself when I left the board, and I’ve kept that promise to myself, believe me.”

Would you like to continue reading?
Subscribers please click here to continue reading. If you are not a subscriber, please click here to purchase this article or to obtain a subscription to ASBJ.