Creating Your Own Leadership Roles

By Doug Eadie

n my younger days as a community college vice president in Cleveland, I oversaw the office of the college board of trustees. I had an invaluable opportunity early in my career to work closely with the governing body of a major educational institution. The lessons I learned over my five years at the college have served me well as a consultant to public and nonprofit organizations in the governance arena.

One of the most important lessons I learned is that the work of governing a public or nonprofit organization -- be it a school district, college, hospital, or public transportation authority -- is by its very nature a team effort. The process of making strategic and policy-level decisions and judgments is so complex that no school board could possibly govern effectively on its own without a close partnership with its superintendent and senior administrators. Their collaboration and support are essential for effective decision-making.

A second lesson came along with the first: Governing may be a team sport, but it is without clear rules. This makes building a rock-solid district governing team a challenge. I was thinking about this as I watched the French Open final. Imagine playing a tennis match without hard and fast rules about such basics as when a shot is in or out, when you change sides, how you keep score, or what constitutes a foot fault when serving. Chaos, right? Welcome to the world of public school governance.

Sure, some fundamental rules for the governing game exist, such as how school board members are elected, the terms they serve, when posting a meeting is necessary, and what constitutes a quorum. But when you get into complex governing processes such as strategic planning, annual budget development, and educational performance monitoring, no detailed, universally accepted guidelines exist for you to follow.

Every time I present a workshop involving school board members and district administrators, someone asks me to explain the division of labor between the school board and superintendent in a particular area, like operational planning. Every time, I disappoint more than a few participants by saying, “Well, you’ve got to work that out based on experience, but there’s no way you can draw a solid line with your school board’s role on one side, and the superintendent and senior administrators’ on the other.”

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