Board-Savvy Superintendents

By Doug Eadie

While working away on my new book, tentatively titled The Board-Superintendent High-Impact Governing Team, I recalled an incident that made a powerful impression on me early in my consulting career.

I’d gotten a call from a superintendent who was having problems with his school board. The relationship was so seriously frayed that his job was clearly on the line. It didn’t require much interviewing to reach the conclusion that this very bright, capable superintendent -- who’d mastered all of the major executive functions, such as strategic and operational planning, financial management, and the like -- wasn’t nearly as good at relationship building.

For example, over his five years as superintendent, he’d paid very little attention to involving his board in the annual operational planning/budget development process early enough -- before all the numbers were on paper -- for his board to play any serious part in shaping the final budget document. In effect, he’d turned the board into an audience for a finished document, which they could only thumb through, asking relatively minor questions about line items.

And on the human side of the equation, he hadn’t even bothered to develop a close working relationship with any of his board presidents, who consequently were far from being his allies and advocates.

I could recount many similar stories over the years, which have convinced me that behind every truly solid board-superintendent working relationship is a superintendent who is what I think of as “board-savvy.” In fact, in my new book, I devote a whole chapter to exploring the characteristics of board-savvy superintendents. I’d like to share three of the most important ones in this column: making governance a top priority, serving as the chief board capacity builder, and paying close attention to the human dimension of the board-superintendent relationship. 

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