Board-Savvy Superintendent

Helping Staff Shine During Board Presentations

by Lisa Bartusek

A strong presentation by members of the school district staff can be a real asset in helping your school board make sound decisions.

These presentations also can build trust and shared leadership between the board of education and professional staff around the important work of school improvement. Unfortunately, a weak presentation can cause misunderstanding, erode trust and morale and undermine good decisions by the board.

With stakes that high, most superintendents invest the time to help fellow administrators and school-based staff prepare for effective public presentations to the board.

Consider Context
The superintendent ought to share with staff both the practical and the emotional context for their presentation. Consider these issues:

  • Will the board be making decisions based on this presentation, or is this an information-only item? If a decision is to be made, when will it be made?
  • How much time is allotted on the meeting agenda for this presentation?
  • What’s the level of board knowledge or interest on this topic?
  • Is this considered a hot topic? Is it controversial? Has there been confusion on this topic?
  • Are there board members with established opinions on the topic?

The superintendent should work with staff members to identify what should be covered in the presentation. Most board members will want answers to questions such as these: How is this program or action aligned with our district goals? What is the evidence that supports the program or action (education research, data, etc.)? What are the intended outcomes or results?

Who is affected and how deeply are they affected? Were representatives of the groups affected by decisions involved in the development of the program and were they satisfied with that involvement?

Also, what are the capacity issues — financial impact, human resources/staffing needs, time, training, etc.? How will the board know the effort is successful in accomplishing the intended outcomes or results? When will the board receive future reports on implementation or results? What supports will district staff need from the board in order to effectively implement the action or program? What questions might board members receive from parents or citizens about this issue or program?

In short, the goal of staff presentations is to help the board understand: what good, for whom and at what cost?

Short and Snappy
Advise staff to compress presentations in both time and content. Keep the bulk of reports in writing, supplementing them with oral or visual presentations. Handouts should be simple, brief and carefully proofread. Check data carefully, particularly statistics. If a long handout is a must, provide an executive summary.

Staff should provide handouts to the superintendent in advance so there’s sufficient time to review them and for the board secretary to copy and mail the packet to the board before the meeting.

If several staff members are giving a joint presentation, be sure everyone knows what everyone else is going to say. No surprises for anyone, especially the superintendent.

Encourage staff members to check the meeting room ahead of time and ensure the room is set for their presentation needs and that audiovisual equipment is working.

Ask staff members to avoid reading to the board for more than a few words. Staff members should speak from an outline or notes, rather than a prepared script.

Discuss the importance of avoiding jargon or acronyms such as AYP, NCLB, LEP, SES or other insider shorthand. Keep language simple and direct.

Encourage staff members to be professional while still showing warmth and enthusiasm about their topic. If the presenter acts bored, the board will be bored.

Remind staff members to expect questions from the board during and following the presentation.

In Public View
A presentation to the board is a presentation in the public eye. Remind staff members that they may be quoted in the news media.

Encourage staff members to listen carefully to the ensuing board discussion. Staff members will be key communicators about the board’s decision or concerns to other staff and community. Paying attention to the board discussion can help staff fairly and accurately represent the board’s decision.

Provide feedback to staff members privately after their presentation. Talk about what went well and what could be improved the next time.

At all times, the superintendent should model respect for the school board’s important responsibility for community governance of public education. The top leader’s attitude and commitment to the board’s decisions will set the tone for the staff’s interaction.

Lisa Bartusek is leadership development director of the Iowa Association of School Boards, 700 Second Ave., Des Moines, IA 50309. E-mail: lbartusek@ia-sb.org