School leaders embrace business and industry tactics to help their schools — and students — adapt and thrive
NSBA: 75 Years Young
The association celebrates 75 years of advocating for public education
Breaking Barriers to Reform
Poor children arrive for their first day of school at a decided disadvantage. For these children and their schools, something more is needed. It’s here that innovation, creativity, perseverance, and the sheer will to change are crucial if we’re to improve the educational achievement and the futures of these children.
Board Room to Boot Camp
You no doubt think that you’ll never be able to experience firsthand Marine Corps recruit training and find out what makes the nation’s smallest military branch so special. However, this is not the case—not for educators. The Marines offer an Educators Workshop that exposes participants to Marine recruit training.
The Value of Collaborative Leadership
What is the difference between management and leadership? Ultimately, it boils down to knowing that managers know how to do things and leaders know exactly which things to do. How do we create leaders able to support and carry out the vision of our schools?
Challenges for School Leaders
The governing challenges public school systems face appear uniquely daunting. I can’t imagine being accountable for carrying out a more complex, high-stakes mission than the one guiding our public schools. To start with, our public schools’ primary “customer” – the student – is also the primary “product.”
NSBA Head of Advocacy Reflects on Long Career
When Michael Resnick joined NSBA as a legislative specialist in 1969, Richard Nixon was president. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. The U.S. Army began pulling troops out of Vietnam, and Jimi Hendrix sang at Woodstock. And most Americans believed the nation’s public education system was the best in the world.
Best Practices for Raising Student Achievement
When leveraged, the practice of limiting goals, establishing important routines, developing a balanced assessment approach, using multiple measures to inform improvement, and empowering teachers and developing leaders can lead to a highly effective system and produce high student achievement in districts and schools.
Behind every truly solid board-superintendent working relationship is a superintendent who is “board-savvy.” Three of the most important characteristics of a “board-savvy” superintendent are: 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.
Leadership in Times of Change
For education, we are in a time of transition. Take a deep breath. You don’t have to fix things. Schools need to evolve, not be fixed. You don’t have to be the hero who has all the answers – and don’t expect top administrators to be that person, either.
Using Interim Superintendents
A popular notion is that an interim superintendent is a placeholder. The typical interim school superintendent, so goes the myth, spends a quiet period minding the store until a new superintendent arrives. These notions could not be more wrong. Any interim superintendent worth having is capable of making tough decisions.
The School Board Chair's Role
Experience has taught me that many, if not most, school board chairs don’t come close to realizing the tremendous leadership potential of the position. There are three keys to playing the kind of board chair role that not only makes a significant difference, but is also deeply rewarding and satisfying.
Choosing Good School Governance
Does your board find itself so caught up with day-to-day issues that you can’t see beyond the current crisis? That’s precisely when you should stop the machinery and figure out just what keeps you from dealing with true board work and from providing effective leadership.
7 Signs of Effective School Board Members
Congratulations! You’re now a member of the Board of Education. We want you to be the most effective possible advocate for your community’s educational vision and values. To help you succeed, we’re going to share with you the seven practices of highly effective boards.
Board Committees Take Governance to the Next Level
The two pre-eminent governing streams in every organization, including school districts, are planning and performance monitoring. These are the bread-and-butter governance functions. A third, narrower stream is important but not as critical: community and stakeholder relations. This modern committee structure takes the governing performance of school boards to the next level.
Is School Board Unity Possible?
What is the key to unity on the school board? What is the magical component that promotes unity? The key to board unity is that, once members have aired their differences, they are able to defer to others rather than defend their point of view to the death.
Beyond Academics: Giving Students a Chance to Succeed
Teach the students, not the curriculum. That’s a maxim that great teachers – and great schools and school districts – live by. It means that, if the material is not getting through to the students – if it is not meeting them where they are – the whole educational enterprise has failed.
School Board and Community Connections
Normally, you want your board to focus on governing rather than on doing. However, I recommend that you make an exception in the stakeholder relations arena and engage your board as doers. School board members are perfectly positioned to reach out to key community members, turning stakeholders into allies.
Shaping Perception of Public Schools
Not so long ago, people who devoted much if not all of their professional lives to public education could simply concentrate on the critical work before them. They knew the public, while not agreeing with everything they did, would be behind them. That time is now gone.
Preventing Leadership Churn
The demanding nature of their jobs, an aging superintendent population, and relationships with school board members all lead superintendents to leave. School boards can make the top job more manageable. Be visionaries. Put your superintendent in a position for success, and he will put your students in a position for success.
Ongoing Training for School Boards
High-impact school boards recognize the need to invest in ongoing development of their governing knowledge and skills
Innovation in Large Districts
Significant change is possible in even the largest, most complex organizations. The key is collaboration combined with meticulous leadership and management and the commitment of sufficient resources.
School Board Requests
Requests by the board for information—which sound to the staff like demands and can be seen as inappropriate communication between board members and district executives—can become a serious issue that threatens to disrupt the board-executive partnership if left unaddressed. Responses to such requests require valuable staff time to fulfill.
Are Field Trips Disappearing?
Field trips can spark curiosity and help students make connections to concepts they study. In some cases, it may be the first time students have been to these places. Thirty percent of superintendents surveyed in 2012 had already nixed field trips, and 43 percent indicated they would do so next year.
Countering Reform Resistance
I am not implying that teachers and other school personnel are fighting an insurgency against school change. But change is difficult. We resist it because it is not comfortable. Resistance to change grows until it can feel like an insurgency. Here are 28 military tactics to help the school improvement movement.
Sabbaticals for Public School Teachers
Sabbaticals encourage the scholarly aspirations of educators still early in their careers as well as of those who are veterans. If we expect teachers to act as consummate professionals, then we should treat them as such and give them some of the perquisites of academic scholars.
Campaigning with Social Media
Social media is just another tool that allows people to interact with one another. What sets social media apart and makes it such an asset for those running an election campaign is its interactive and viral nature. Modern technology has had a multiplier effect on communication – for better and for worse.
Retreats for New Superintendents
A recent intensive, focused daylong retreat of the Baltimore County Public Schools school board and their newly-hired administrator was successful due to five key elements: a meticulous design process, strong board leadership, executive team involvement, a clear follow-through plan, and professional facilitation.
Why Keep Teacher Tenure?
Tenure – like it or loathe it – is an employee benefit, similar to salary, vacation, medical benefits, and sick leave. When tenure is removed, teachers have little incentive in an individual school or district and perpetually risk termination based on an administrator’s whims and foibles. Good teachers – smart teachers – will not take this gamble.
School District Mission Statements
Often school mission statements are merely posted in the main office and not what they should be: a set of beliefs that drive a district’s goals, hiring practices, instructional leadership, and program initiatives. Here are three simple steps districts can take to start living their own mission statements.
School Boards in the Digital Age
What will 21st century school boards look like? If contemporary school boards can engage the demands of our new digital world and learn to respond, they will model the exact behavior future graduates will need to exhibit for success in our transformed world: the ability to be lifelong learners.
Saving Money With Green Schools Technology
Energy is the second largest line item in district budgets. Thanks to a prolonged economic downturn, educators are scrutinizing figures that once were considered fixed costs, taking large and small measures to make sure they get the most bang for their buck. In a word, schools are going green.
Voter Buy-In for Bond Issues
An old maxim in public education is that any campaign for a bond issue – even in the best of times – must begin years before school leaders even think to ask voters for money. Public confidence in the schools must be carefully cultivated for bond votes to succeed.
Disruptive School Reform
Spontaneous small scale reform can be used in tandem with larger systemwide changes to raise student achievement. Would you be willing to let this happen in your district?
School District Process Management
Houston-based American Productivity and Quality Center’s (APQC) Jack Grayson has been on a mission to translate his experience in the private sector to improve efficiencies and performance to the K-12 sector. Each of the 50 some districts APQC has worked with has achieved an average net savings of $1 million.
The true test of any leader is how you respond during the most challenging times. You need to keep focused, maintain your composure, and encourage the team to believe. Motivating the team to work hard and want more requires leaders to support and genuinely care about their employees.
Mentoring New Board Members
Every organization needs new members to replace those who leave. Those boards that are successful in searching out future board members do so systematically and with purpose. They are open and transparent in their efforts. Sometimes this happens within a tangential organization like the PTA, PTO, or an education foundation board.
Data-Driven School Governance
So how do you read the data? What are the tricks and techniques to find the answers you need? Your answers are found in training – and not just for you and your fellow board members. Your staff needs to understand how to look at data to fix campus problems.
In Memory of a Great Educator
What can you learn from the life of an Ohio educator who changed lives for the better? This column talks about a wonderful human being and extraordinary teacher who left a legacy of fuller, richer, more successful lives: the best definition of the educational mission I know.
Using Testing Data Right
One of today’s most popular education trends is the use of “formative” assessment. Unfortunately, much of the assessment occurring in schools is decidedly uninformative. The reason is a failure to provide the time, leadership, training, and collaboration essential to ensure that the formative assessment is successful.
Top 10 List of Public Education Success
Policymakers and pundits have decried “our failing schools” so often it’s become an accepted truth. But the naysayers are wrong. It’s time that we recognize our accomplishments and give our public schools a collective pat on the back. Here is my personal Top 10 list of things we’re doing right.
Succession Planning for School Leaders
Succession planning should not be a system of preparing one person in an organization to become the next leader. Instead, it should be more about preparing the entire organization for an eventual change in leadership, similar to the way succession is carried out in the private sector.
Humble School Leaders
Hundreds of school boards will lead their communities in superintendent searches this year. They will look for command presence, charisma, and political prowess. However, one important quality often is left off the list: leadership humility. Superintendent humility has strong implications for the classroom -- leadership humility is linked to higher math and reading scores.
Keep Public School Public
We educate children for a number of reasons, but ultimately to preserve our democratic republic. If our democratic experiment is to survive, we must teach our children the moral, ethical, and political obligations of living in a free society. If public schools serve no other purpose, they should serve this one.
Professional Development That Works
If a school board truly wishes to boost academic achievement, it must support professional development. The latest research says that staff training must be “down and dirty” – very practical for the classroom, including sustained coaching and support for teachers and administrators as they seek to master what they’ve learned.
Caring for Student Health
It makes perfect sense: If you don’t feel well, you won’t perform well. Numerous studies have shown that school-based health centers can improve student health while lowering hospitalizations and Medicaid expenses. Several have noted sharp reductions in absenteeism and tardiness rates in schools where health centers exist.
Superintendent as Innovator-in-Chief
Leading out-of-the-box change is your school board’s governing gold standard. It has to do with the highest-priority governing matters, such as updating your district’s values and vision statements, identifying the highest-stakes issues that your district needs to grapple with this year, and fashioning change initiatives to address the issues you’ve selected.
Preventing Fraud in Your Schools
A series of unsettling financial findings in Oklahoma’s Skiatook Public Schools toppled the head of the school system and led to several indictments. Unfortunately, such incidents are not rare. Here are eight tips for keeping your school district financially safe and sound.
Rural School Basics
It sounds so simple, so traditional, and so old-fashioned. But it also makes perfect sense. Successful schools engage parents and the public to build community support. Schools need to put high-quality teachers in classrooms. They need to review academic data and pay attention to each student’s individual needs.
Honoring School Board Best Practices
It takes a village to raise a child. This phrase was taken to heart by the grand-prize-winning Magna Award districts this year. One district provided a warm and stable home environment for students in great need. The other two districts found innovative ways to engage underrepresented parents into their schools.
School Leaders' Guide to Grant Writing
All effective grant-writing programs have certain characteristics: good communications, coordination of activities, common mission statement and goals, and a feeling of shared ownership. Your list of experts should include members of the community who are willing to serve on your grant-writing team. The only failure in grant writing is not trying.
Preparing for E-Rate
It is important to remember that E-rate is a journey, not a race. So instead of letting E-rate fall by the wayside until the next big deadline, we offer a few simple suggestions for completing the work for this funding year, as well as for preparing for the next funding year and beyond.
Five Ways for Schools to Thrive in Tight Times
Most districts can’t keep cutting back and provide a 21st century top-quality education. Districts need to reimagine how to educate their students at a permanently lower per-pupil spending level. School districts can alter how they serve students in a world of declining resources, and serve them better by embracing five strategies.
The Costs of Educating Immigrants
How much does it cost to educate immigrant students, both legal and undocumented? And what are the short- and long-term benefits of those efforts? These questions are both tremendously complex and politically charged. There is no agreed-upon estimate of the costs – let alone the benefits – of educating the children of immigrants.
Employee Benefits Savings
Districts must continue to find ways to save money and keep budget cuts as far away from the classroom as possible. One area of money-saving potential is employee benefits. School districts and school boards still can realize some savings while they continue to offer health care benefits to their employees.
School Boards on the Hill
Each winter, about 750 school board members attend NSBA’s Federal Relations Network Conference (FRN). Participants spend two days in sessions learning about current federal legislative issues and trends, then head to Capitol Hill for meetings with their congressional representatives and staff. Participants from Ohio, Georgia, Montana and Texas give you their impressions.
Making It Work Between Board and Superintendent
The school board-superintendent working relationship is notoriously fragile, and is very likely to erode if not meticulously managed. One of the most powerful tools you can use to build and maintain a close, positive, and productive board-superintendent partnership is a well-designed and carefully executed process for board evaluation of superintendent performance.
Politics and School Board Races
More than $2 million was spent in 2011 on just three elections. That kind of spending doesn’t just happen. In a political environment in which money, partisanship, ideology, and fiery rhetoric play increasingly prominent roles at the state and national levels, who can say what the future holds for local elections?
Education Vital Signs: School Governance
Education Vital Signs collection of reports on School Governance.
Spurring Creative Thinking in Your District
If your district gets the board involved late in an out-of-the-box change planning process, when hands-on input isn’t feasible, then you can’t reasonably expect the board to feel firmly committed to the change initiatives in your district’s portfolio. Commitment depends more on feelings of ownership than on any other factor.
Managing the Generations
Many districts have three or even four generations working for it. Each generation has unique talents and contributions. Understanding generational differences can help school board members and superintendents lead more effectively. They can make the differences work to the advantage of the district and to improve student achievement.