Tuesday, December 23, 2014

School Board Governance and the Importance of Culture

Much has been written and debated about the role of today’s school boards and how board governance impacts student performance.  On the surface, it’s obvious that board actions dictate policies and practices that (should, at least) promote opportunities for students to excel.  But how does the way that the board goes about its business contribute and how important is culture in ensuring that these opportunities exist?

As the word implies, as trustees, we have numerous obligations to those who have elected us, ranging from fiscal management to overseeing the operations of the district.  But we are much more than that; we have been entrusted by our communities, parents and students to make decisions and to act in the best interests of those stakeholders; our culture is an essential element in doing so.  How well do we do in fulfilling those obligations?  Do we continuously act in a manner that keeps the well-being of the student at the forefront of all that we do, or do we let ourselves get sidetracked by other issues?

Following up on our year one “road trip” talking about the opportunities created by HB 5, Bobby J Rigues, Aledo ISD trustee, and I will be presenting at Winter Governance and both Summer Leadership Institutes, with our focus this year on school board governance.  We’ll be joined by Dr. Jamie Wilson, Superintendent of Denton ISD, a strong proponent of good board governance.  The discussion of school board governance is one that is grounded in state statute but our focus will be more on how culture and governance drive positive outcomes than the statutes themselves.

In upcoming blogs, we’ll start the discussion that leads up to these conferences.  So let’s look further at the culture of the district and the communities it serves.  When we were elected as trustees (there’s that word again!), the expectation was that we would have our hands on the pulse of the community.  But do we?  Do we know what is most important to our stakeholders?  Or are we operating in a vacuum, focusing solely on actions taken by the board and administration?  It certainly is possible for a district’s students to succeed without a culture of sound governance.  But I would argue that this is not sustainable long term.

So what are the elements of culture that promote sound governance?  I believe that it starts with communication and relationships.  What is the relationship between the superintendent and the board of trustees?  And what about the relationship among trustees?  Is it one of trust and sharing of information, or is it one where each trustee is focused solely on self-interests without consideration for doing what is best for students?  Good governance is a direct result of honest communications and trust among the entire team of eight.

We all like to think we are doing the best that we can and it’s likely that few are working to undermine the efforts of the district.  Challenge yourselves as a team of eight, however, to think “kids first” and openly share with one another personal values and beliefs that impact your district’s culture.  Good governance suggests that a sound culture will be the cornerstone of the success of students in your district.  And, remember, your students are depending on you to make sound decisions that reflect good governance; anything less leaves them potentially unable to fulfill their individual potential and promise.

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