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Board-Savvy Superintendent                          Page 11

 

Transparency and Good

Governance

 

BY MICHAEL T. ADAMSON

 Board-Savvy_Adamson

The superintendency may be an increasingly lonely job, but it is no longer a job that can be accomplished alone. The strength of good governance relies on the honest representation of leadership from the superintendent and school board. However, it doesn’t just happen, it must be intentional and it must be consistent.

Governance, by definition, is the process by which an organization or society operates. However, it is more than rules and guidelines or policies or procedures. Additionally, it is the philosophy behind the process of governance, as well as the intent behind every action taken in governing. As more and more criticisms are launched against public education, superintendents are drawn into similar maelstroms of critical review.

The cry for transparency is prevalent today, and it has affected leadership styles within public education. Frequent attacks against public education leadership, as well as its customs and traditions, have effectively dismantled many time-worn models of organizational leadership, replacing and reshaping them with new and improved models housed within glass walls.

An Inquiring Public
Although transparency is a popular buzzword (who can object to greater transparency?), what really is the expectation? What is being asked?

After cutting through all the rhetoric, what today’s critical and inquiring public truly demands is an honest, unguarded representation of facts, figures, recommendations and actions that are not masking ulterior motives or hidden agendas.

Surely the implication is not that superintendents can have hidden agendas, is it? Certainly, they know better than that, don’t they? Unfortunately, hidden agendas do exist. For example, consider the superintendent who covertly crafted a golden parachute, capitalizing on the trusting relationship of the school board to approve an excessive retirement payout and associated benefits. The negative fallout of that ethical breach not only affected the local school district, it gave the whole profession a black eye across the state.

Of course, it is not my purpose to question the motive behind any superintendent’s agenda that, if not hidden, is effectively camouflaged within other initiatives or programs. Yet it is important to stress that in this Saran-wrap age, a superintendent’s best interests may be better served to ask for permission, with full discovery, rather than wait and ask for forgiveness.

The superintendency, while still representing a bully pulpit in public education, must recast leadership within a mold of accountability. In other words, a superintendent’s agenda must be submitted to checks and balances outside his or her office. Its purpose must find validation beyond personal preference.

This does not suggest that superintendents must ask permission for every action they take, but it does propose that they should ever be prepared to justify their decisions and their actions.

Limited Withholding
Are there reasons not to be transparent? Of course. There are reasons where absolute transparency could compromise a school district’s competitive edge or when revealing every strategy might not serve a district’s best interests in sensitive negotiations. There are reasons when complete openness could violate the privacy of employees or students. Still, although valid reasons do exist to hold specific types of information confidential, the list is a short one.

Lastly, transparency begins with your school board. The board-superintendent relationship should be collegial; you are on the same side. Take the board into your confidence and build on the strength of that relationship to govern efficiently and effectively in your school district.

Living in an age where knowledge is power, but disclosure is king, a sin of omission has dire consequences. Chances are if a superintendent is unwilling to subject his or her actions or recommendations to critical, objective scrutiny, it is probably in everyone’s best interests that they be reconsidered. Besides, if your house is kept clean, you never mind opening the front door.

Michael Adamson is director of board services with the Indiana School Boards Association in Indianapolis, Ind. E-mail: madamson@isba-ind.org

 

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