This past weekend I, along with a Superintendent and an Assistant Superintendent that I have worked with for a number of years, presented at a multi-state school board conference. In our session (a full house with over 75 attendees) we had school board members from Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. Our discussion centered on the role of leadership in bridging both cultural and learning gaps. We were very well received and the audience was lively, engaged and motivated by the subject at hand. I bring this up, because in the middle of the discussion a question was asked about school board members visiting schools and it presented a perfect compare and contrast between traditional school leadership views and the way that we believe.
The question was poised, “should school board members visit schools” and the room immediately became a den of noise. Quickly, an older gentleman spoke up and made his case:
He was a former superintendent and now he worked for a regional service center. He did not think that any good could come from board members visiting schools. They would not know what to look for and would not recognize it if they saw it. Board members need to let the professionals do their jobs.
Anybody who knows me and the type of people that I work with can guess that we had some areas of disagreement.
Here was our case:
1. School board members have a responsibility to visit schools on a regular basis. First there are the twin issues of transparency and trust. As professionals, we need to operate safe, effective and efficient operations 24/7 and the board needs to trust that we do that. Open access and regular inspections insure that both occur. Second, the schools belong to the community and their agent is the board. The board can’t fulfill it’s responsibility as a steward by acting like an absentee landowner.
2. The Board is the Senior Leadership of the district. Regular visits by senior leadership is good for staff morale and the visits also serve to bring insight and perspective to the Board’s decision making. For example, a covered walk-way is easier to approve once you have witnessed 400 elementary students get off the bus in the freezing rain. Just as it is easier to question if central office really needs 50 new flat screen monitors when you have recently visited the high school computer lab that hasn’t had any new equipment in the past 10 years.
3. There are some caveats. First the board member is there to observe only. Comments and questions must be routed through the Superintendent. Because of their position, board member comments carry too much weight and too many repercussions to be unfiltered. Second, the board member must understand that anyone with enough moxie to approach them is not just concerned or being friendly. They have a specific agenda they are advocating. Third, the board member is not there to manage anything, take credit or blame for anything and/or campaign for anything. If a board member does this, the other board members must step up and rein that person in.
So there it is in a nut shell, old school thinking vs. Lead Your School thinking.
Think. Work. Achieve.