So just how important are culture and governance in achieving student success? On the surface, this may seem to be an easy question to answer but let's take a moment to look into this further. School districts do not operate in a vacuum; there are many variables that drive behavior and actions across the district. Let’s look at how all of these interrelate and tie back to good governance within the district.
Quoting Dr. Jamie Wilson, Superintendent of Denton ISD, “it (governance) begins with culture and ends with partnerships, relationships, and cooperation”. What culture are we talking about? First, what about the culture that exists within our communities? Are our parents engaged (see my prior blog on parent engagement)? Are students actively engaged in the classroom? What about the impact of the business community within our districts? Certainly each of these is a critical element and, while we as trustees cannot directly impact these variables, our actions will certainly influence how engaged the community and our students are.
A second aspect of culture is that involving the superintendent and the Board of Trustees. Is there a high level of trust? Is there open communications between the superintendent and the board and do all board members feel free to speak openly about their views on public education and student achievement?
Third, and I would argue likely the most important, is the culture that exists within the board itself. Is the culture one of trust and respect or is there dissension among trustees that adversely impacts the functions of the board? Dissension and disagreement are critical elements of any board operation but these must be managed with trust and respect for the opinions of others.
The bottom line is that we often ignore the impact of culture, how that impacts or drives governance, and how both impact student achievement. It's up to us as trustees to ensure that everything we do remains focused on student achievement. If we fail to do so, we feed the argument by some that school boards are becoming increasingly irrelevant. For my part, that is unacceptable and does not fairly represent the impact that all of us are making. This is our time to step up and demonstrate that, through good governance, we can and do positively impact student achievement in our districts. Our culture demands that we do precisely that.