By Susan Salter | AASB Director of Leadership Development
How strategic is your board, really, when it comes to the work it does?
There’s an adage in business that holds that the way to succeed is to “put the first things first.” That is also critical for school boards which want
to significantly impact student achievement. But in reality, the myriad of issues confronting board each month – from the routine to the crisis – can
overrun even a board with the best intentions.
To ensure your board is intentional about the work it does, consider developing an annual calendar to schedule your work on key issues. Sometimes called planning calendars, these documents do not have to be complex. In fact, the simpler the better. All they need to do is layout, month by month, which issues the board will tackle. By getting them down on paper in advance, and updating them annually, you can ensure your board does stay focus on the first things.
To start, schedule a work board session and ask the members and superintendent to come prepared to discuss the critical topics they believe the board should address in the coming year (or even every year). Also ask the superintendent bring each member a calendar showing the actions the board takes annually and when they are taken. This typically would include:
- Approving end-of-the-school-year personnel decisions (April and May);
- Evaluating the superintendent;
- Setting system goals for the coming year (usually at the time of the superintendent’s evaluation);
- Holding public budget hearings and approving the budget (usually August); and
- Reviewing the results of state accountability tests (August).
The calendar also should include dates deadlines for board approval of any reports your system submits to the state each year and, if relevant, any reports/actions needed related to system accreditation.
In addition, ask the superintendent to bring information about the types of data collected during the school year and when that would be available for presentation to the board.
Having all these existing expectations and deadlines charted before you start will make it easier for the board and superintendent to schedule the “first things” work at times when the board and staff do not already have heavy workloads.
At the work session, begin by brainstorming the areas board members and the superintendent would like to see the board focus on in the coming year. If your board already has formal goals for the coming year, the work is much easier. You can use this work session discussion to identify points in the year at which you want updates or times when the board will need to take specific actions related to the goals.
If you don’t have formal goals, you could use the annual calendar discussion as an opportunity to develop a timeline for setting them or you could use it to identify topics the board will focus on in the coming year. In that case, board/superintendent discussion would focus on questions like:
- Does the board want to become more data driven? Review the types of data available and discuss possible priority areas.
- Are you ready to create (or update) your strategic plan? Discuss which time of year would work best for the staff (who will handle much of the detail work)?
- Does the board need to update or review its policy manual? What about recruiting and retaining a high quality faculty?
These are just examples of the type of questions/priorities that could arise. The important thing is the board and superintendent jointly discuss priority areas and set the timeline. As you have probably already surmised, it will be important to balance the board’s desires to address areas and receive information with the workload already on your central office and school staff at various times of year.
Originally published in March 2013.