A few months ago at a team building retreat I was facilitating, involving the board, superintendent and her top administrators of a large suburban district, I sat in on a breakout group that was really struggling. Its charge was to brainstorm a set of “accountabilities” of board members to their colleagues on the board – and to the whole board as the entity responsible for governing the district. As I discussed the charge with the group, I realized that they were experiencing a kind of culture shock. The whole idea of a cohesive board team whose members were accountable to each other and to the team as a whole for the board’s governing performance was clearly alien territory to most, if not all, the breakout group’s members. As we talked, it was apparent that the governing model that most participants embraced was legislative: a board made up of representatives of particular constituencies in the district, rather than some kind of corporate governing body that needed to function as a cohesive team.
I was thinking about this and similar true stories as I listened to the podcast that Oliver Robinson, Superintendent of New York’s Shenendehowa Central School District, and Aaron Spence, Superintendent of the Virginia Beach City (Virginia) Public Schools, recorded for this blog on steps they’ve taken in their districts to turn their boards into cohesive governing teams. I was reminded how powerful the centrifugal force created by the representational/constituency-focused model could be and how much effort is required to overcome it. As they make clear in their podcast, countering the inevitable centrifugal force on school boards requires a multifaceted strategy going well beyond mere orientation and training.
You won’t want to miss Oliver and Aaron’s podcast when it’s posted next week. They share a number of very practical steps taken in their districts that have proved very effective in combatting the inbuilt centrifugal force that can pull board governing teams apart.
We’d love to hear steps our readers have taken to move their school boards away from the popular – but highly toxic – representational/constituency-focused governance model.