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Saturday / September 23

So Now You’re a Superintendent: Learning to Work with the Board

Every superintendent faces the challenge of how to work effectively with a school board and individual school board members. To meet this challenge you must develop and strengthen a wide array of important and often complex skills. Begin by becoming familiar with the state laws governing school board operations.

The school board is your employer. Members of a school board, or trustees, normally are elected by the community for three or four year terms. A simple majority can reject your recommendations or remove you from your position. Identify and implement successful strategies to work with the full board, factions of the board and individual members.

Successful boards and their superintendents know that the primary functions of the board are to set policy, approve and oversee the budget, hire and, if necessary, fire the superintendent. They are expected to make decisions that reflect the values, aspirations and expectations of the community.

Boards serve as a public face to the communities that elect them. They use this position to promote and support the work of the district. They only have authority when a majority of the members are in agreement and an action is taken at a regularly scheduled board meeting in adherence to prescribed state laws. Board members have no legal authority outside a board meeting.

Working effectively with a school board is challenging. You and the board should function as a team, knowing and respecting the others’ role. The board is your employer and you are responsible for running the district. You also are responsible for preparing information the board needs to make decisions and conduct meetings.

As you work with a board always respect their role and authority. Use information gained from them to further inform your work. Help them grow as individual members and as a fully operating board for the greatest success.

The following will assist you as you begin working with a board:

  • Learn the state laws pertaining to school governance and board authority. Review district’s Board Bylaws for additional guidance.
  • Treat all board members the same; listen carefully to them and keep them informed. Schedule informal meetings with board members to gain a better perspective on their views and needs.
  • Understand the difference between board micromanagement and board governance; implement strategies to address micromanagement issues.
  • Ensure the board has on-going training; provide guidance and support to newly elected trustees, assisting them in their transition.
  • Understand the difference between board policy and board regulations. Keep board policies up to date, especially state and federally mandated policies.
  • Know how to conduct yourself during board elections.
  • Recognize the public nature of e mail, tweeting, texting and other social media when communicating with the board and the community.
  • Know what information may be considered confidential for board members only and what information and decisions must be made in public.
  • Work closely with your board president and understand the uniqueness of the president’s role.
  • Prepare carefully for board meetings. Work with your board president and vice president to finalize agendas. Develop a yearly calendar of routine agenda items.
  • Determine with the board the frequency, time and place of board meetings a year in advance. Realize the pros and cons of the decisions surrounding this.
  • Learn what is included in a board agenda and board packet. Understand the difference between open and closed session. Learn the role of the public at the board meeting.
  • Prepare board meeting materials thoughtfully and carefully. Review and approve all documents sent to the board.
  • Understand the superintendent’s role at board meetings and the need to be prepared for each item on the agenda. Follow up on each meeting and the decisions made.

As time goes by your work with a board will become more instinctual. You will understand the individual and collective needs of the board. This does not mean you will avoid conflict. Rather, it means you develop a good working relationship that allows the district to progress toward meeting its goals.

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Written by

Mary Frances Callan and Bill Levinson are experienced superintendents with over thirty years of superintendent experience. They are the authors of Achieving Success for New and Aspiring Superintendents: A Practical Guide, which was written specifically for experienced principals and district office administrators who want to become superintendents.

They are committed to the belief that the more knowledgeable an administrator is about the superintendent position before seeking the position the more likely they will obtain a position and be successful in their first, most challenging year.

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