It was great catching up via Zoom with my dear colleague Pat Watson this past Saturday morning. After 3 ½ years at the helm of one of the country’s premier public school districts, the Bloomfield Hills Schools in Michigan, Pat is now on a sabbatical of sorts, thoroughly enjoying his new role as an executive trainer in the corporate world. “Sabbatical” is the right word because Pat definitely plans to resume his highly successful K-12 career in the near future after taking a well-deserved breather. In addition to our catching up last Saturday, I also recorded a video interview with Pat, focusing on the lessons he learned about building and maintaining his partnership with the Bloomfield Hills School Board while serving as its superintendent. Our readers will find a link to the video at the end of this post. Over the course of almost 40 minutes, Pat and I discussed his working relationships with his four board presidents and with the board as a whole. Pat also candidly shared what he wishes he had done differently in working with the Bloomfield Hills Board and offered advice to superintendent-aspirants about preparing to work with their first board.
Some highlights of our interview:
- Pat knew coming in that he couldn’t hope to develop a close and productive working relationship with the board president at a distance; it required being really up-close and personal. Pat made a point of getting to know every one of his four board presidents really well: their personal and professional backgrounds; their motivations for becoming a board member and eventually taking the gavel; their most passionate beliefs; their professional aspirations; their communication style; etc.
- Near the top of the list of relationship building strategies in Pat’s book was continuous communication with all board members in varying forms: regularly scheduled one-on-one in-person meetings; special work sessions to address thorny issues; email updates; and the like.
- If Pat had it to do over again, he would soon after taking the helm reach formal, detailed agreement with the board on the governance model they would employ in making governing decisions and judgments: the board’s details governing role; the board’s standing committee structure; and the processes for engaging board members in key governing processes, such as strategic planning, budget development and educational and administrative performance monitoring.
- Pat’s advice to superintendent-aspirants: Master the governing business before taking the helm, especially familiarizing yourself with thoroughly tested best practices in the complex, rapidly evolving field of K-12 governance.