Executive Perspective

A Vote for Vibrancy in AASA Governance

by PAUL D. HOUSTON

When superintendents get together they tend to have a common topic of conversation--school boards. They talk about bad boards, good boards or dysfunctional boards. Sometimes the conversation resembles an afternoon talk show--“School boards and the superintendents who worry about them.”

 

My intent is not to get into that topic right now. The main point to keep in mind is that in governance, form follows function and the quality of work is driven not only by quality of the people attracted to the task but also by the structure they work in.

 

AASA is also governed by a board and has been for over a century. For a long time the structure worked well, operating as a tightly held board similar to corporate boards. Over time the AASA governance structure became more political to the point where politics was trumping a sound process for electing the board. Getting on the board seemed more important than the service that followed. An emphasis on politics hurts policy. That called for election reform which was implemented several years ago.

Meanwhile it was becoming obvious that the key to AASA’s effectiveness and our very viability is keyed to our relationship with our state associations and our ability to get our members invested in what we do. We have worked very hard on our relationship with our states for several years and now enjoy perhaps the best connection to our states that we have ever had.

Informed Electorate
Yet something is missing. Our current governance model has created a disconnect between our members and those they have chosen to serve them. People often have little knowledge about candidates, what they believe or how effective they might be serving on or leading a board. Consequently, we have seen little enthusiasm for the election process and a low level of commitment to those who are elected. Further, our polling information has indicated a low tolerance even for the modest level of campaigning currently allowed.

AASA President John Lawrence captured the need in one word. He pointed out that our governance process lacked “vibrancy.” We needed a fresh injection of enthusiasm and more direct access to more of our members in governing the organization. Two years ago, the Executive Committee embraced the idea that a major overhaul of our governance structure was required and appointed a task force to rethink the entire process. The task force consisted of members of the Executive Committee and state executives as well as past presidents. They developed a proposal for a broadened governance process that was presented to the Executive Committee, which adopted it unanimously. Subsequently, that proposal was endorsed unanimously by the executives of our state affiliates and now moves on to the members for final approval.

I hardly need to tell you the significance of a group of people who gained their positions through a certain process voting to change that very process. Imagine your own board voting themselves out of existence. Not likely. Yet that is the level of concern and statesmanship shown by the current elected leadership of AASA. Remarkable!

Two Tiers
Time and space do not permit all the details of the proposalhere. They are on the AASA website and in the materials that you will receive shortly. Suffice it to say it will be a two-tiered arrangement with a larger governing board with at least two representatives from each state and additional representatives according to membership. This board will make the big policy decisions for AASA and will allow us to have immediate access to what our members are thinking on issues confronting the profession.

A smaller executive committee elected from the governing body, by region, will oversee the more specific day-to-day policies of the association. Both bodies will be chaired by a president elected by the membership after nominations by the governing body. This structure tethers us more closely to our state associations and gives greater assurance that those who are leading the organization know it well and are ready to be accountable for their actions. In short, it creates a greater sense of vibrancy in our work.

Now, I don’t normally get into association politics--it tends to be dangerous to the health of executive directors. However, just as the executive committee broke with tradition by recommending they be voted out of existence, I will break with tradition and urge you to support this change in governance. It is good for the organization and will go a long way to ensure that when old executive directors get together down the road, we won’t have to complain about the quality of our governance. We can talk about how vital and vibrant it is. I believe that this is a watershed moment for AASA. Let’s not lose it.

Paul Houston is AASA executive director.