Developing Your Staff
If the mere mention of the phrase staff development elicits eye-rolling, sarcastic muttering and loud exhalations among the teachers in your district, you’re not alone. Despite three decades of research and millions of dollars spent annually on professional development, many building level and central office administrators fail to capture teachers’ interest or commitment to these training activities. For training to be meaningful, you need to listen to your teachers about their wants and needs.
The Hardest Choice
Closing a school, or schools, is one of the most emotionally charged issues a district can face. In so many communities, schools hold much more than learning opportunities. They hold memories and milestones, prominence and perspective. Tenuous as it is, schools hold life, and shutting one down snuffs out the vitality of a neighborhood.
Dealing with Decline
Why are urban districts having such a rough time? Details vary from city to city. In some, families are abandoning the city because of a rising crime rate, a weak job market, or housing prices that are out of reach. Elsewhere, public perceptions about the quality of city schools and competition from private and charter schools are cutting into enrollment. State funding may be inadequate, and with declining enrollments, per-pupil state aid is falling. In any given city, some—or all—of these factors are at work.
Courting the Middle Class
What can schools do to keep parents from going private, or moving to the suburbs? Once as revered as mom and apple pie, the public school brand has crashed and burned spectacularly since the 1970s, when the general public and most parents believed their children’s schools were better than when they attended them. To win back middle-class parents, school leaders must seize the agenda and focus the rhetoric on public education’s successes rather than its challenges.
Politics and Policy
To maintain its momentum, the abstinence-only movement needs to convince more Americans that abstinence-focused curricula will help delay teen sexual activity and limit unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. But there may be a problem: There’s a paucity of research showing that the abstinence-only message works. When abstinence and sex education are on the agenda, boards must be prepared for bruising debates over ideology, morality, and money.
What Boards Want from Schools
No Child Left Behind and similar state policies place school board members in a quandary. The basics are important, but so are critical thinking and social skills. Today’s school board members, along with state legislators, superintendents, and the general public, are in good company when they assert that developing basic skills should not be the schools’ only mission.
How to Win a Bond Referendum
School construction and maintenance are at the top of nearly every board member’s to-do list. Finding the resources to finance these projects is critical to your district’s future—but often the decision to borrow the money does not lie in the hands of the board or the superintendent. Instead, it’s up to the district’s voters. A campaign to gain public support will go a long way when you need to ask your voters for money.
Board Member Boot Camp
The basics of board service are pretty much the same—beginning with why people run for school board in the first place. Many newly elected board members win because of campaigns that focus on worthy causes. Taking fast action on those causes is often out of the question. But don’t lose sight of those causes. Over time, you may be able to get them accomplished—especially if you follow these 10 clear rules of board service.
Keys to Effective Communications
One of the great ironies of modern life is that as the world gets more complex and connected, people feel more disjointed and alone. That’s why relationships and face-to-face communication will always matter more than an award-winning marketing campaign or a front-page "good news" story. Technology can help you manage relationships in new and better ways. But an e-mail exchange will never replace the discussion you can have over a cup of coffee at the donut shop.
Technology and Hiring
Online recruiting is a must these days, but it’s just the first step in finding the right candidates for school district jobs. Two new tools can help you find candidates who are the best matches for vacancies in your schools. Online advertisements will net a larger pool of candidates than traditional searches to begin the hiring process. And behavior-based interviewing—which assumes that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance—will help sort candidates for efficient selection.
Software makers have been busy inventing tools that enable school districts to prescreen applicants online, virtually inhale resumes, automatically redistribute resume data into district databases, and automate the process of candidate referrals from in-house personnel with easy-to-use Web portals. If you’re looking to retool your school district’s site with the latest Internet recruiting tools, here’s an overview of what to look for.
Breaking the Hiring Barrier
Qualified minority candidates are out there—why aren’t they hired as superintendents? There are African-Americans in the pipeline, but while white candidates can take positions in both white and minority districts, the reality is that African-American candidates are rarely considered for positions in nonminority districts.
Women constitute the other half of the talent pool, so why aren’t they better represented in the superintendency? Sad to say, gender, racial, and ethnic bias are alive and well in America. What does all this mean for school boards? We believe the most important lesson is to recognize that the issue is a matter of social justice. Board members should learn how to recognize policies and practices that are gender biased and should remove or change them.
To promote educational equity, many states have adopted formulas that redistribute local property tax revenue evenly across school districts. Many districts also attempt to pass local-option levies to generate additional tax dollars so they can improve the quality of education. Is this something your district should consider?
Links in the Chain
The problem of board members becoming inappropriately involved in matters best handled elsewhere is not limited to a particular size or type of district. It’s a temptation for board members everywhere. Your role as a school board member is always clouded by the emotional needs of the people around you. The public views you as its elected official and partner in solving problems.
It goes without saying that a good working relationship between the school board and the superintendent is key to a school district’s success. But does your district or state have policies that outline how to achieve that, and have you taken the steps to make those policies work? Connecticut’s board-superintendent governance statement provides a road map for success.
Who's in Charge
Washington Post columnist William Raspberry recently aimed his pen at an urban school board that hired a new superintendent as the first step in district reform. Decrying the seemingly never-ending cycle of such searches, he compared superintendent turnover with replacing bus drivers on a vehicle whose brakes are shot, gauges are rusty, and steering is loose. Raspberry’s preferred solution: Fix the bus. What’s wrong with the bus? And—whose driving it?
Governance by Committee
Standing committees can be powerful "governance engines" for your school board, and are one of the preeminent keys to doing the kind of high-impact governing work that makes a significant difference in district affairs. Many school boards have adopted operating guidelines to help ensure that standing committees provide strong support to the board in carrying out its governing mission. A brief sidebar, “Guidelines for Committees,” is part of this article.
From politicians to parents to advocacy groups, school boards are being pressured on all sides. Over the past two-plus decades, the tradition of local control has been shaken to its core, beset by state and federal mandates, battles over consolidation and choice, and the growth of well-funded national organizations that put schools at the center of the political and culture wars. Parents, chafed by loss of control, are taking out their frustrations on board members.
Democracy's First Step
Some of the nation’s most respected public servants began their political careers on the school board. Jimmy Carter began his political career on his local school board. So did U.S. Sens. Richard Lugar and Patty Murray, and former Arkansas Gov. Dale Bumpers. Serving on a school board for some is a vocation; for others, it’s the genesis of a political career that could -- as was true with President Carter -- take them all the way to the top.
Shared Values, Shared Success
Your board must work as a team. A first step is establishing a code of conduct and operational guidelines, sometimes called operating principles. This foundation piece is a cornerstone for building a positive climate and a healthy learning community for everyone in the district. Once the school board develops its principles, it’s easier to encourage the involvement of everyone in the district to develop districtwide principles.