I was privileged to spend the better part of a day last week with the Strategic Governing Team of the Billings, Montana Public School District: the school board, superintendent, and senior administrators. Over the course of the day – at what we called the district’s “High-Impact Governing Work Session” – we brainstormed opportunities to clarify the board’s governing role and functions, to strengthen the board’s role in such processes as strategic and operational planning, and to ensure a rock-solid board-superintendent working relationship over the long run. Six breakout groups led by board members proved very useful in both generating lots of useful content and guaranteeing active participation throughout the day.
As we worked our way through a really demanding agenda that required lots of concentration, I was struck by two things that I think of as uniquely American and find very inspiring. First, in today’s fast-paced, high-pressure world, the fact that the very busy volunteers serving on the school board would spend so much time working so hard – for absolutely no pay, of course – is testimony to the public service ethic that is alive and well, not only in Billings, but around the country. Second, that such a diverse group, with divergent views on many of the critical issues facing the Billings Public Schools, could work so harmoniously together for a whole day demonstrates that civil discourse is alive and well in Billings and, as I’ve learned from my consulting work, in nonprofit and public organizations from coast to coast. I happen to believe that such discourse is key to a vibrant, viable democracy, and I’m heartened to find it occurring in Billings and many other boards. What a refreshing contrast to the shrill, often quite nasty, rhetoric you hear these days in the broadcast media.
On a more personal note, after the session in Billings, my wife Barbara and I spent a couple of days driving through Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, marveling at the majestic scenery and abundant wildlife. We capped off our tour of these national treasures with a stay at the historic Wort Hotel in the vibrant downtown of Jackson, Wyoming, where the cast of the great movie “Shane” stayed during filming.