Superintendents' New Role
Experience has taught me that some superintendents and district administrators worry more about protecting their executive turf from incursions by “micromanaging” board members than creatively thinking through how to engage their boards meaningfully and proactively. That’s the bad news. The good news is that I’m seeing a radically different leadership style emerging among superintendents.
School Boards as Citizens
It’s helpful to think about the work of school boards as essentially the work of citizens. They are residents who guide their community’s schools. What kind of conversations do these citizens have? At best, a school board’s essential conversation is about what the community needs and expects from its public schools.
School Board Team Building
Elected board members bring a legislative mind-set to the board room that works against team building. Think of the U.S. Congress, the mother of all dysfunctional governing bodies. School boards tend to be an even tougher nut to crack – they face highly emotional, potentially divisive issue such as sex education.
Making Change Work for You
Attempts to drive change from outside are doomed to fail more often than not. A number of school districts beat the odds by using a task force of board members to make recommendations for governance improvement, who “sell” the recommendations to their board colleagues, with behind-the-scenes assistance from a consultant.
Preschool Reforms Bring Results
Many school leaders have to explain to their community why test scores aren’t meeting expectations. We were members of that crowd. Our schools were never labeled “failing,” but we were not meeting our potential. A major redesign of early intervention was what we needed.
Improvements in School Improvements
We know a great deal more than we used to about school improvement, and what is really required to succeed. An assistance model that does not engage the board and district leaders, and fails to extract firm commitments for the investments of their time and talent, is doomed.
An Example in Rhode Island
Can firing all the teachers really turn a school around? Or does it just make matters worse? Should teachers ask for more wages in return for added responsibilities? Should they balk at having their evaluations linked to student performance? Or are these things just part of being professional and accountable?
Do Turnarounds Work?
There’s a definite allure to the idea that, if a school culture is so dysfunctional, the best option is simply to cut your losses and start over again. It appears decisive. Tough. No nonsense. It can work, too. It all sounds so easy. But school turnarounds remain an iffy proposition.
School Boards' Complex Roles
Going out there with a clear message and strong supporting materials is perhaps the single most powerful, cost-effective tool you and your board members can wield in fostering positive community relations. My only caveat is that you must thoroughly rehearse, and then rehearse some more, preferably in a group setting.
Strategic Change Portfolio
A relatively new approach to leading and managing change, the “Strategic Change Portfolio” process, involves: identifying your district’s major issues; selecting the issues that merit attention now; developing initiatives or projects to deal with these issues; and managing how the initiatives are implemented, using a strategic portfolio.
Creating the Perfect Board Committee
You’ve probably heard people say school boards should focus on the “what” while administrators determine the “how.” Contrary to conventional wisdom, involving board members in mapping out the “how” of board involvement in key governing processes is the most effective way to upgrade board participation over time and prevent micromanagement.
Student Publications Going Digital
Schools are supplementing their print publications by using the Internet, updating the traditional yearbook for a generation accustomed to multimedia. Some high schools have similar online profiles and websites for their newspapers and other publications. The rules governing the use of social networking to promote school-sponsored media are often murky.
Power to the Student Press
Student reporters terrify adults, and I’ve never understood why. Admittedly, good student journalism does have a tendency to “stir the pot” and cause controversy. But at the same time, student reporting can make adults in the community aware of situations, concerns, and perspectives that otherwise might never come to light.
Performance Pay Is Coming
Performance pay is coming. We offer five practical ideas to make pay for performance work: evaluate teachers not on data alone, but also on their response to data; use a transparent and objective system of evaluation; honor your contracts; assess leaders and policymakers, not just teachers; and, avoid unintended consequences.
Making Teachers More Effective
The Gates Foundation has committed $100 million over seven years to help Florida’s Hillsborough County Public Schools dramatically strengthen teacher effectiveness. It’s an exciting and ambitious project that also has involved the board from the get-go.
Successful School Reform
Why do some school reform efforts work when others don’t? We identified six features of early success, key ingredients for any district’s reform recipe. They are: suitability, superintendent leadership, reform champions, retaining focus, advancing through stages, and communications. Including the six key ingredients will help ensure your reform’s success.
Open School Board Meetings
In the past decade, with the explosive growth of e-mail and texting, school board members have more opportunities than ever to run afoul of their state’s open meeting law. A walking quorum (staggered meeting) can take place by e-mail, where such “meetings” can occur in minutes – possibly violating state law.
The Leadership Team
In meetings with K-12 groups, I’m often asked about the line that separates so-called school board “policy-making” from the executive and administrative management functions of the superintendent. Twenty-five years of working with boards and superintendents has taught me that there really isn’t a solid line, not in real life, anyway.
Does this professional development scenario sound familiar? A teacher attends a professional development session. Unfortunately, there’s no time to meet with her colleagues to work out the kinks. Over time, strategies from the session are forgotten and no real change occurs. But what if the scenario unfolded this way? …
Using Technology to Connect
Teachers, students, and parents are all using social media to stay connected. Most school board members, however, have been slow to embrace this new medium. You need to be aware of this disconnect and integrate this powerful communications tool into your governing life. If you don’t, you are missing an opportunity.
Too often, what passes for leadership development at the district level has been nothing more than an assortment of unaligned and ineffective activities. Yet many school districts persist in this haphazard approach to leadership development. This is puzzling, as there has never been a more critical need for school administrators.
Your Leadership Partners
Perhaps the most overlooked participants in the debate over school reform are the 53 state and territory school board associations in the United States. Every school board association, no matter how big or small, has a significant legislative presence in its state capitol. Their member districts provide a powerful grassroots base of support.
Anne Bryant and Dan Domenech Talk Leadership
What follows is an exclusive interview with NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant and AASA Executive Director Daniel Domenech. It is also a snapshot of the conversations and collaborations that regularly occur between the pair.
School Boards:What Does The Future Hold?
These days, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see the challenges facing school boards in the years ahead. More mandates are on the way. More charter schools are on the horizon. And everyone will expect school boards to keep raising achievement despite gut-wrenching cuts in state education funding.
Helping Employees Cope With Stress
Educational leaders can do three things, none of which costs money, to help address employee stress: They can make better decisions about the use of time, ensure that employees get the mental health care necessary to deal with stress, and communicate clearly and consistently with every stakeholder in the community.
Understanding Special Education Terms
Special education terms and jargon can be quite confusing to school board members, especially those new to their role. To help board members understand special education jargon we have provided and defined a list of relevant terms and acronyms, “The ABCs of Special Ed.”
Special Education Restraint Questioned
An investigation by the federal Government Accounting Office last year found that restraining or isolating disruptive students may be much more common than expected, particularly in special education classrooms. Some states already have counted thousands of incidents, and researchers studying the issue believe those numbers are underestimated.
Do Students Need More Time?
It’s been argued that time is the major design flaw in public education. Politics and tradition have stymied previous efforts to extend the school day and calendar. Despite the obstacles, a number of pioneering traditional schools, districts, and even one state have ventured into expanding learning time.
Changing the Grade
A revolution is occurring in Adams County School District 50. If it succeeds, the district will overturn a public school icon: the grade level. Starting this year, elementary and middle school students are being grouped by level, not age, and the reform moves to the high school next year.
Q and A with Rod Paige
Buses, lunch counters, swimming pools, and drinking fountains were the battlegrounds of the ‘60s-era civil rights movement. Today, according to former U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige, that battleground is the classroom -- a place where too many African-American students are failing to achieve their potential.
The Profession of Governing
Upon entering school board service, most of us are anxious to learn all we can about education and management. When we stand for election, we highlight experience in education and management, and voters believe we are better prepared because of that background. This all seems quite logical. It is also quite wrong.
What Can Schools Learn from Business?
If school boards want to improve their schools, then all they need to do is to model the business practices of Corporate America. There’s no escaping this simplistic formula for school reform. As with most panaceas, there’s a fair bit of truth -- and no little rubbish -- in such thinking.
Getting Support from Employers for School Leaders
It’s hard for any professional to juggle board duties with the ever-increasing demands of today’s jobs. And while it appears the vast majority of employers don’t mind and may even actively encourage employees to volunteer for public service, some make the lives of school board members anything but easy.
How School Leaders Cope with Stress
Maybe it was the federal stimulus funds, a slowdown in job losses, or an uptick in the stock market that has lightened the mood in the country. But, as analysts have warned, the United States isn’t in the clear yet. No one knows this better than the three educators profiled here.
Beyond Governance Rules
If governing isn’t making policies or rules, what is it? When you strip away the fancy rhetoric, governing becomes nothing more than the board making decisions about very concrete governing “products,” such as an updated district vision statement, long-range strategic goals, and the annual budget, and making judgments about such concrete “governing documents” as educational and financial performance reports.
The Innovative School Board
In a new monthly column in American School Board Journal, Douglas Reeves shares real-world examples of how school board members are making a difference in helping their local communities and creating models from which other schools around the world can learn. This month, he considers the Law of Initiative Fatigue.
Make Sure Your Students Are Counted
This spring, the federal government will launch the 2010 census. For school boards, the most obvious impact of the census will be on future funding. Whether school boards get their fair share of these funds, however, remains a concern. The census historically undercounts young children and some disadvantaged populations.