Board Members Play Political and Diplomatic Roles in the Community
But you must strike a balance in your non-governing roles when reaching out to key constituents.
Can Poor, Rural Schools Reverse Their Fortunes?
Public schools are perceived as an obstacle to a better future in a small Mississippi town and county. So what can be done to turn them around...?
Sharing a Business System Saves Time and Money for Schools
Five Wisconsin school districts develop a planning system to streamlines business practices.
Hiring a Board-Savvy Superintendent
When deciding who to pick for the top job, board members should look for several telling characteristics among the candidates.
The New Breed
Today's big-city mayors eye takeovers as an opportunity to produce results
The Value of Collaboration
To avoid takeovers, school districts must learn to collaborate with city leaders
Take It to the Limit
As large-city mayors continue efforts to gain control of schools, the track record for takeovers remains mixed.
Make your board's implicit rules explicit through a customs manual.
Taking One for the Team
To develop good relations among board members, you must pay more than lip service to the notion of working together
Politics and Research
As a deluge of reports offers commentary on everything from abstinence to vouchers, is today's information credible, or rooted in ideology?
Resisters in Our Midst
Dealing with reform saboteurs
Outsourcing Survival Tips
Going outside can control costs and improve services, but advance planning and common sense are critical to success
How Do You Manage Yourself?
To be a high-impact school board, you have to constantly develop your knowledge and skills, and be explicitly accountable to your community.
Summer of Fate
On a sweltering July evening in 1967, Detroit police descended upon an illegal saloon in one of the city’s largest black neighborhoods—and unwittingly unleashed a maelstrom. What followed was one of the most brutal riots in U.S. history. What does this 40-year-old tragedy have to do with public education today? Quite a lot, actually.
Oakland’s efforts to reinvent itself after decades of decline and deterioration are hamstrung by its reputation. Progress undoubtedly is being made, as the antiestablishment radicals of the 1960s and ‘70s embrace revitalization policies that they would have decried four decades ago. But much work is left to be done, and the schools—which are central to the city’s renaissance—have their own set of problems.
New board members and administrators must have the right information and know how to use it.
The Search for Character
What are you looking for in a superintendent? Your ultimate action can sometimes uncover your motives.
Life in the Governance Sphere
For new board members and administrators, getting a firm grasp of the 'business' is key to your long-term effectiveness.
Advancing By Retreating
Retreats are probably the best way to involve your board creatively in generating critical products that can’t be handled in regular meetings. If you haven’t used retreats as a board involvement tool, you should. Just make sure you keep these tips in mind as you put your retreat together.
Managing Your Money
Just about anything can throw a district's budget off. Too many kids. Too few kids. Natural disaster. Human error. Old buildings. New mandates. About the only constant in the business of educating the next generation is that the stakes will get higher. To squeeze more out of less, districts are relying on creativity and outside-the-box thinking to keep budgets balanced.
The Bible and the Board
One thing we know is that there are strong feelings both for and against teaching the Bible in schools, and the issue is almost always divisive. What we may not understand is the serious potential for legal entanglement when the Bible—and religion in general—is introduced in schools. As a result, school districts, and most certainly board members, are often caught in the middle of a controversial quandary that could end up as a prolonged court battle and an intense public ordeal.
A Real 'Reality Show'
If you're a school board member, you know what it's like to be recognized when you are out in public. It usually happens when you are waiting in a line, say at the post office, the bank, the dentist's office, or standing on the sidelines of your kid's soccer match. My least favorite place to hear that inevitable question, "Hey, aren't you on the school board?" is the grocery store.
Building a Budget
Many superintendents take a defensive posture where their boards’ involvement in budgeting is concerned. Of the hundreds of board members I’ve interviewed, only a handful have ever said that they’ve found their role in shaping the annual budget fulfilling. They’ve expressed lots of frustration, often verging on anger, and their working partnership with the superintendent has been seriously frayed. The budget process can be irritating and frustrating for the board, but the board does have a role and should be involved in a meaningful way.
Moment of Truth
If not schools, then what institution will prepare today’s children to live and work successfully in a nation that’s increasingly diverse racially? A generation after white flight ravaged many of the nation’s largest urban school districts, both racially and economically, a number of small metropolitan areas are now facing, in the words of one education analyst, “their moment of truth.”
Across the nation, school board members and administrators are seeing how their districts benefit when corporations, universities, and local businesses come together in partnerships. Partnerships range from providing mentors for students, to offering leadership training for principals and other administrators, to recognition programs for teachers, students, and others. These partnerships can be critical for districts that are time strapped and cash squeezed.
From Information to Action
Well-designed committees can strengthen your board's ownership and commitment to the work of governing.
Leader of the Pack
You wouldn’t know it by looking at them, what with their slow gaits and sad, brown eyes, but cows may be savvier than school boards when it comes to selecting leaders. Or so the latest research suggests. Scientists in France found that bullying, selfishness, size, and strength weren’t recognized within the herd as suitable leadership qualities. Intelligence, inquisitiveness, confidence, experience, and good social skills were. Cows realize this. You’d think we would, too.
Practitioners and Practice
Comedian Paul Reiser has a routine in which he explores Americans’ inordinate faith in "them" and what "they" say. There is an ill-founded assumption in public schools that some people somewhere else—"they"—are sorting out the big issues while the administrators and practitioners tend to the daily business of running schools. Yet, the absence of strategic thinking is hindering the breakthrough solutions and innovations that are necessary for public schools to remain viable.
The Compassionate Leader
With all the recent research and discussion about competency, change leadership, communities of learning, commitment, and collaboration, we must not ignore a leader's need for the essential ingredient: compassion. In our push for academic excellence, we must not take the heart and soul out of our schools.
Look Back, Look Ahead
To ensure a smooth transition in leadership, boards should take time to study where the district has been—and where it hopes to go. One way to avoid making the wrong choice is by commissioning what's known as a transition case study—a timely and focused look at where the district has been in the past decade and where it hopes to be going.
A Precious But Fragile Bond
What is at the very top of the list of factors that influence the educational and administrative performance of every school district? The answer is simple. It’s the most precious but always-fragile professional marriage between the school board and its chief executive officer, the superintendent. When this precious bond is allowed to become badly frayed, your school system is in for real trouble. The cost of a ruptured board-superintendent partnership can be awesome.
New media communications like blogs, podcasts, e-mail, and websites are making it easier for educators to connect with one another and with students and their parents. Used wisely, these tools can build relationships in new and more powerful ways. Used inappropriately—or even criminally—the new media can mean new headaches for school officials. Digital mishaps are particularly potent because the viral nature of the Internet means that one errant key stroke can result in global embarrassment.
The Tech-Savvy Leader
In school districts, you must be a quick study, watch changing and evolving trends, and have a clearly defined picture of success to be at the top of your game. Here are lists of Edtech Leaders to Watch, Top-Ranked Digital School Boards, Top Tech Tools, and Most Helpful School Technology Reading Materials to help.
Crossing the Line
Boundary hopping—the practice of falsifying residency status to attend a particular school—has been around for years. In a handful of states, it has been alleviated by open enrollment, choice programs, and, to a lesser extent, charter schools. But in a number of top school districts, many of which are already at or over capacity, it continues to be a problem.
Moving the Lines
To me, a truly valuable school board member walks a fine and constantly shifting line between representing one’s constituents as well as all the children in the school district. All children matter in all decisions, not just a select few. Almost immediately, a debate over school boundaries put my noble principles to the test.
Learning from Experience: One District’s Story
School boundary changes are an issue of effective operations for districts and an issue of image, identity, and culture for many communities and parents. The differing interests often result in a natural clash among the community, the superintendent, and the school board.