Hillsborough’s MaryEllen Elia on the Board-Superintendent Partnership

by | Jan 15, 2015 | Board Savvy Superintendent Blog Archive, Board-Superintendent Relationship

Looking over columns from The American School Board Journal early this afternoon, I came across one that appeared in May 2009, “Governance:  A Superintendent’s View,” featuring an interview with MaryEllen Elia, Superintendent of the Hillsborough County Schools in Tampa Bay Florida, who has been named one of four AASA National Superintendent of the Year finalists for 2015.  A  board-savvy superintendent if there ever was one, MaryEllen, who heads the 8th largest district in the nation in terms of enrollment, talks in detail about steps she has taken to build a close, positive, and productive working relationship with her school board – a relationship that certainly played a major role in the district’s securing a $100 million grant from the Gates Foundation to promote more effective teaching.  If you haven’t seen the piece, you might want to check it out at:  https://www.dougeadie.com/system/files/ASBJSuperView0509_0.pdf.

Early in the interview, MaryEllen points out that the governing function “is one of my top CEO priorities, so I really do pay considerable attention to keeping my working relationship with my board close and positive.”  She goes on to say that she’s “what you’d call a board-friendly superintendent, I believe in strong board leadership, and my board knows it.” Discussing the personal dimension of board-superintendent relationship building (she regularly meets one-on-one with each board member), MaryEllen observes that governing “is a people-intensive process” and goes on to say that “the better my board members and I know each other, the more likely we are to work well together on the governing front.”

You’ll find especially interesting MaryEllen’s discussion of the board chair-superintendent partnership, which she calls “a primo relationship and top priority, not only because my board chair can  be a powerful advocate for actions I’m taking to the board, but also because there’s real potential for stepping on each other’s toes if we’re not careful.  This is especially true in the external arena, since we’re both considered spokespeople for the district.”

You might also want to check out this podcast that MaryEllen and her former board chair, Carol Kurdell, recorded, about the Gates Foundation grant.

About the Author: Doug Eadie

President & CEO of Doug Eadie & Company, Inc., Doug Eadie assists CEOs in building a high-impact board-superintendent partnership.

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