Tuesday, January 7, 2014

New Year, New Challenges

New Year, New Challenges, Same Foundation

As we move into the new year public education will be faced with a new set of challenges. So much to do...so little time.

As many of you know KASB has sister organizations around the nation. Many school districts across the country are dealing with the very same issues even if they are 200 hundred or 2000 miles away. The California School Boards Association recently shared a Top 10 list for new board members that we thought might be worth sharing with Kansas Leaders.
  1. Think kids! 
  2. Work as a team, speak with one voice 
  3. Keep confidential matter confidential 
  4. Maintain the big picture view 
  5. Listen, learn and ask questions 
  6. Understand and stay with your role 
  7. Respect the past and work toward the future 
  8. Abide by Policy 
  9. Accept that change takes time and planning 
  10. Advocate, advocate, advocate! 

We have discussed some of these topics in earlier blogs but several of these topics really need to be repeated for all board members on a regular basis.

Think kids
The motivation to run for the local school board is very personal. Countless reasons move people to serve in this important leadership role but none of them are more important than the kids. Our success as a community, state, and nation will be determined by the level of education we provide future generations.

Marian Wright Edelman (1939-)stated, “Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.” No matter how difficult the situation if we always find a way to keep students first boards will make the best decision possible.

Work as a team.
I know many board members around the state have listened to KASB leadership services teach about teamwork and boardmanship, some might say that is one of Leadership Services “core values”. We know that at times that message may get old but great boards really are “great teams”. Until each board member puts the goals of the district above their own personal goals the board will struggle. Boards must strive to find common ground and work together to accomplish district goals and improve student success.

Keep Confidential Matters Confidential
Transparency and open board meetings are critical to develop trust within the district and community. But as you know, some topics require confidentiality. Kansas law allows for board members to enter into executive session for eight different reasons. The eight reasons for an executive session include; 1) Personnel matters, 2) consultation with an attorney, 3) negotiations, 4) confidential data of a business, 5) matters affecting a student, 6) acquisition of property, 7) security, and 8) inextricably intertwined subjects. A board member must be cognizant that executive session conversations are confidential. Keeping confidential information confidential is the “law,” and is an important component of being an effective board member.

Maintain the Big Picture View
Does your local Board of Education have district goals established? District goals allow all members of the board of education and the superintendent to move in the same direction. Your goals must be the “Big Picture View.” A district with effective goals will keep moving in a positive direction. Goals provide the roadmap to meet your district’s aspirations and fosters continuous improvement... A “Big Picture View” keeps you at the 10,000 foot level so that you can see the whole district and not get caught up in the day to day operations of which you rely on capable district and building level administrators.

Listen, Learn and ask questions

The management guru Peter Drucker indicated, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” As leaders we often find ourselves discussing important topics and ideas. If we are not careful, we will be talking when we would be better served listening. It is difficult to learn when we are the only person sharing ideas. Listen to fellow board members, community members and others whenever you have a chance. Turn to your administrative team for recommendations, have quality discussions and an exchange of ideas based on accurate data. Boards that spend time together sharing ideas and learning from others make better decisions.

Understand and Stay with Your Role
The superintendent is tasked with the day to day operations of the school district. As board members are well aware, you are always wearing the school board member title in your community. You understand your role much better than the general public which sometimes wishes you to be the superintendent for their problem. An effective board member knows their role is governance and policy making. Developing a vision and setting goals for the district is where the board can have the greatest impact on school improvement.

Advocate, advocate, advocate.
Finally, stand up for education and schools. So many great things are happening in classrooms across this state yet we find ourselves on the defensive in so many circles. The reason education has changed is based on the demands of the future. If you want to read a short story about what happens to education when it is unwilling to change and plan for future needs take a few minutes and read, The Saber Tooth Curriculum. Don’t be afraid to share your insights and speak up. Board members know more than most about the quality of education Kansas students are receiving, yet as we transition into 2014 and the upcoming legislative session, there is the possibility that decisions could be made by the legislature that will result in school boards having to make some difficult decisions. At times these “difficult” decisions can negatively impact the culture of a board. While these decisions are never easy, it does become easier to maintain a positive direction if there agreed upon values (kids) that the board lives each time they are faced with one of those “difficult” decisions.

It is kind of like the old country song by Aaron Tippin, “you’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything,…..never compromise what’s right and uphold your family name….”

In the case of schools and boards, the “family name” is our students and community needs. As a board have you defined what you want and value for your students? Do you as a board understand what is valued and needed within your community? These are key questions that will help you define, “what you stand for.”