Board-Savvy Superintendent                        Page 11


Helping the Board Take

Its Own Temperature



Nick Caruso


Last night your board of education met with you to discuss your annual performance evaluation. You had a feeling that a couple of board members might take issue with some of your decisions, but nothing prepared you for the brawl that broke out.

It was obvious from the start little or no consensus existed on how you performed this year, and it seemed several board members were confused about whether you had even done the work they had asked of you for the year — or what that work was. Much of the time was spent with board members challenging each other, rather than you. Trust was dramatically missing through the entire conversation.

This is not a column about superintendent evaluation, but rather some advice to help you assist the board as it works through its own issues to better lead the district.

A Pulse Check
I spend a lot of time reading books on trust, hoping I’ll figure out how to build it up where it is missing. A relatively consistent theme throughout the literature is that trust is transactional. If key elements add up, there will be trust, enabling you and the board to focus on the work of the district rather than defending yourself from board members who think you are not doing what they envision your job to be.

The transaction (known as the trust equation) I use to demonstrate this is: Clear Goals + Action Plan + Results = Trust. One easily could substitute the word “success” for trust because if all three components exist, then you should be successful. Yet if one or more are missing, trust (and success) are likely to be missing. So how do we get the board to do better?

To help the board check its pulse, encourage members to take the time to see how well they perform on the trust equation.

It can be difficult for the superintendent to be the one who suggests this to the board. Start by encouraging the board chair to bring this to the board’s attention. If that doesn’t work, you might need to discuss this with the board as a whole, encouraging them to participate, but it works best if the initiative begins from within the board.

You must help them see the need for clearly defined goals. I am involved in a board training program called the Lighthouse Project (a research-based program developed by the Iowa School Boards Foundation to help boards raise student achievement), which suggests, importantly, a board establish and support performance goals for students. The board also should understand your plan of action to meet these goals and to align district resources accordingly.

Lastly, the board needs to request from you information to measure the plan’s effectiveness once implemented (or identify areas in need of improvement) to ensure the goals are met.

Periodic Examinations
Consider setting up a board retreat or a series of evening workshops where the board can do a self-evaluation. Your state school boards association can certainly help with this.

The board should assess whether goals exist and how it is supporting them. Members should consider whether they spend their time (in and out of meetings) focused on those goals and whether the board works together to accomplish them. Are their meetings productive, or do they spend time distracted from teaching and learning matters?

In an extreme case, such as the brouhaha described earlier, board members also should explore the dynamics of their interaction with each other. If they do not trust each other, they need to work on strategies to develop that trust. I would encourage these meetings be held regularly, not just once a year.

Finally, the board should not wait for special events, like a board retreat, to assess its own work. I highly recommend school boards place a topic on every agenda called “report on goals,” so every meeting gives the board the opportunity to see how it is doing related to the trust equation. Is the district clearly focused on the goals? How is the action plan working? How are the results?

If needs exist from these reports, the board should spend time discussing how it can support the work and ensure the success of the plan.


Nick Caruso Jr. is senior staff associate for field service and coordinator of technology with the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education in Wethersfield, Conn. E-mail: ncaruso@cabe.org 


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