Turning board members into satisfied owners of their governing work through meaningful engagement in planning and other governing functions is a major theme in my forthcoming book, “Building a High-Impact Board-Superintendent Partnership: 11 Critical Questions You Need to Answer,” which Roman & Littlefield will publish early this summer. Board members who are owners, rather than merely an audience for finished staff work, have proved to be more committed and reliable partners for the superintendent. Finalizing the book manuscript this past week, I was reminded of the highly popular podcast that Highline Public Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield and her Board Vice Chair Bernie Dorsey recorded for this blog around a year ago, providing an impressive case of ownership in action. The original post featuring their podcast follows. Doug Eadie
I learned about the incredible power of Ownership as a force for change early in my career as a governance consultant. The school board president and superintendent of a medium sized suburban district agreed to create a “Governance Improvement Task Force” to come up with a set of recommendations to strengthen the board’s leadership. Headed by the president and consisting of two other board members and the superintendent, the task force spent three months coming up with three major recommendations – each consisting of a number of action steps – for strengthening the board’s governing capacity. For example, they recommended that the board’s governance committee play an active role in overseeing the board’s governing performance – by annually updating a list of board member performance targets and regularly assessing performance. The board members on the task force presented the recommendations in a half-day session involving all board members and the superintendent’s executive cabinet, using PowerPoint slides that they’d practiced presenting at their “dress rehearsal” three days earlier. Not only did the board members present the recommendations, they also handled the great majority of questions that came up, tossing only 3-4 to me and the superintendent.
I am 100 percent certain that the board’s unanimous approval of all three governance improvement recommendations was largely due to the task force effort in shaping and presenting the recommendations: a classic case of the power of Ownership at work. In a nutshell, active engagement in shaping the recommendations turned board members into owners, and feeling like real owners of the recommendations turned these board members into advocates and change champions. And the fact that these vocal champions were board members – not the superintendent and her lieutenants – fostered trust among the other board members.
Voter approval of the Highline (Washington) Public Schools capital facilities bond measure by a comfortable margin in November 2016 after two consecutive defeats at the polls is a more recent example of the power of Ownership as a tool for change, as Highline’s Board Vice President, Bernie Dorsey, and Superintendent, Susan Enfield, explain in the podcast they recently recorded for this blog. As Bernie and Susan observe, the prior defeats were almost certainly the result of a trust gap in the community. Highline’s solution to lack of community trust? The creation of a “Capital Facilities Advisory Committee” widely representative of the community and key stakeholders. Over the course of several meetings, CFAC members – with strong support from Susan and her top executives – painstakingly put together the capital facilities plan and budget at the core of their third, successful bond measure, and presented it to the School Board, which unanimously adopted it. As the true story opening this post demonstrated, active engagement transformed CFAC participants into owners, who functioned as highly effective advocates and change champions for the bond measure. In fact, as Bernie and Susan explain, the district has “institutionalized” CFAC (with a steady infusion of new community representatives), which is currently actively engaged in shaping boundary changes that CFAC will eventually present to the School Board. I think we have a CFAC Part II podcast in the offing!
Our readers are invited to share their real-life cases of Ownership in action.