Over the years, I’ve been privileged to present a number of governance keynotes and workshops at AASA, NSBA, and state K-12 association meetings. As is my custom, at the beginning of each program, I’ve typically asked for a show of hands of participants who’ve had a really thorough course dealing with developing and maintaining a solid board-superintendent partnership in graduate school or elsewhere. The typical response – only a couple of hands have usually been raised – surprised me early in my speaking career, but it’s what I’ve come to expect.
How ironic when you think about it, especially for superintendents, who are hired – and fired – by the board and whose success as the district’s chief executive officer depends heavily on building and maintaining a rock-solid working relationship with their board. Boards of education obviously have the formal authority to make a wide range of really high-stakes decisions – enacting major policies, updating district values and vision statements, adopting the annual operating plan and budget, and approving capital projects such as the construction of a new middle school. How collaboratively the board works with the superintendent in making these high-stakes decisions has a tremendous impact, not only on the long-term effectiveness of a school district, but also the professional success and tenure of the superintendent. And as you well know, less formally, day after day, board members can make the professional life of their superintendent miserable if they are frustrated by their governing role or unhappy with their working relationship with the superintendent. Anyone who has sat through an interminable board meeting where superintendent recommendations were picked apart or, worse, trashed, knows what I’m talking about.
I learned early on in my career as a public/nonprofit board and chief executive leadership consultant that being truly board-savvy – understanding how to keep the partnership with the board close, positive, and productive – is a survive-and-thrive matter for superintendents. In a nutshell, this is why www.boardsavvysuperintendent was launched. We want this to be a safe place that you – as a superintendent or superintendent-aspirant – can go to pick up really practical information that you can put to immediate use in working closely with your board as members of what we might call the “Strategic Governing Team” of your district. And we want this blog to be a place where you can engage in fruitful discussion, raise critical questions, and share your experience and best thinking with colleagues.