School Board and Community Connections

By Doug Eadie

I was fortunate recently to sit in on a daylong retreat involving the Teton County School District 1 “strategic governing team” -- the board, superintendent, and senior administrators -- in Jackson, Wyo. Over the course of the day together, board and administrator participants explored a number of practical ways to fine-tune and strengthen the board’s governing role and work, using several breakout groups that employed a free-flowing, brainstorming methodology.

One of the groups worked on board involvement in external relations. They first mapped out a preliminary “image statement” describing how the district wants and needs to be viewed by the community in order to fully accomplish its mission (for example, as “improving student success in all areas,” “safe and caring,” “fiscally responsible,” “open, honest, and transparent”).

Then the group worked up a long list of stakeholders and analyzed the relationships with what appeared to be the five highest priority groups. A “stakeholder” was defined as any formal organization or group outside of the district family with which it makes sense to build and maintain a working relationship because something is at stake. They are groups that the district needed for financial and political support, collaboration on projects, and technical advice and assistance.

The breakout group’s list was long and included state legislators, the town of Jackson, the Rotary Club, Teton County, and the Chamber of Commerce. Two things really impressed the Teton County board and executive team members in the room that day as they listened to the breakout group’s report. First, the sheer number of stakeholders on the list -- 29 after only a few minutes of brainstorming -- was awesome. Too many groups for the superintendent and her top lieutenants even to stay in touch with, much less to systematically manage working relationships with.

Second, the stakes involved in managing relationships with stakeholders were in many cases quite high, and failing to build and maintain close and productive working relationships would very likely exact a high price for the district. 

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