Experience has taught me – and I’m sure many if not most of this blog’s readers – that the more board-savvy its superintendent, the more effective a school board is likely to be as a governing body and the more favorable the odds of building a rock-solid board-superintendent partnership that can withstand the inevitable stresses and strains that come with leading a modern school system. So school boards have a big stake in recruiting superintendents whose governing intelligence is well developed.
But since many superintendent recruitment efforts I’ve observed over the years have paid scant attention to the board savviness of candidates, I want to share some practical tips with board members for determining how board-savvy particular candidates they’re interviewing for their district’s top spot are. Although this post is aimed at school board members, if you’re a superintendent being interviewed for the top job in another district or a superintendent-aspirant preparing to be interviewed for your first job, you’ll probably be interested in the following advice.
First the superintendent search committee should interview at least the officers of the candidates’ current or immediate past board, asking them to assess the board’s working relationship with the candidate in terms of strengths and weakness, to identify important relationship issues that might have developed, and to describe how particular issues were resolved (or not).
Equally if not more important, the superintendent search committee should directly ask candidates probing, open-ended questions aimed at determining their board savviness in terms of governing knowledge, philosophy, and methodology, for example:
- What is your detailed definition of the governing role and major functions of the school board?
- How would you assess your working relationship with your current (or immediate past) board in terms of: strengths and weaknesses; relationship issues; how issues were resolved?
- What concrete steps did you take to help your board become a more effective governing body?
- What concrete steps did you take to strengthen your working relationship with your board?
- What steps did you take to help your current (or immediate past) board play a more effective role in district planning and performance monitoring?
- What board committees have you worked with and which ones were most effective in promoting effective board governing performance?
- What do you consider the key elements of an effective process for our board to evaluate your performance?
There are many other questions search committees might ask, but the point is to be both specific and open-ended in asking about candidates’ governing knowledge, philosophy, and experience. In my experience, it doesn’t take very long, if one listens carefully, to get a good sense of a candidate’s board savviness. Of course, the questions would need some revision for use with superintendent-aspirants without experience working directly with a school board, but it would still be possible to determine how much thought they’ve given to the nuts and bolts work of governing, how to go about building a solid board-superintendent partnership, how to engage board members meaningfully in such critical governing processes as strategic and operational planning, etc.