“Good Governance is a Choice” is a detailed presentation of The Aspen Group’s own Coherent Governance® model, and is both an introduction to the model for boards interested in exploring Coherent Governance principles and a continuing reference guide for boards using the model.
“Boards That Matter,” is a step-by-step guide for implementing both Coherent Governance® and Policy Governance®. For boards that have adopted either model, it is a no-nonsense recipe for translating theory into practice.
Two Examples of How Effective Board Governance Contributed to Increased Student Achievement Does a school board really make any difference to improved student achievement? Do the arduous campaigning, the hours of study, the countless meetings, and the rigors of debate in pursuit of wise decisions by a school board actually have any effect on student […]
In America, the most critical responsibility of a school board is to safeguard the public’s trust in public education. Since the board is not responsible directly for day to day operations, achieving this trust requires the employment of a CEO/superintendent with great integrity and expertise.
Throughout the land, superintendents lament their boards’ tendency to “micromanage.”
Although some board members might agree, many argue that they are merely doing their jobs, primarily overseeing the operation of the district to be sure things are working the way they should. And in truth, they are doing the work of the board, as they have defined it.
So this is the challenge: simply redefine the role of the board.
Ten Strategies to Help Assure the Sustainability of Coherent Governance® in the Public School Environment
A board’s decision to adopt and faithfully implement Coherent Governance® is the first level of commitment. To assure that the current board’s commitment is sustainable as a legacy of leadership and good governance is quite another challenge. This is a particularly acute challenge for public boards.
Since 1983 and the release of “A Nation at Risk,” public education has suffered scrutiny, criticism and outright derision unprecedented in American history. Those of us who chose to work in the field of education, either occupationally or by election, were maligned and accused of everything short of criminal activity. The school board has not escaped that fate.
Superintendents shudder to think about them. School boards dread them. Many avoid them, which is worse than dreading them. Nobody looks forward to them.
And it’s no wonder. Most superintendent evaluation “processes” (we use the term loosely) have little or nothing to do with job performance, and usually all to do with whether board members like the superintendent’s style, appearance, or other subjective or amorphous criteria.
“Maverick: An independently minded person who refuses to abide with the dictates of or who resists adherence to a particular group.”
A board is more than a collection of individuals. Every respected authority on the functioning of boards suggests that in order for a board to be effective as an entity entrusted to govern an organization on behalf of its owners, it must act as a single unit. By definition, that means group action rather than individual member action.
Let’s begin with a sincere acknowledgment that some CEOs and senior staff members work very diligently to produce quality Results and Operational Expectations monitoring reports for the Board’s use in judging the effectiveness of the organization. Many of those reports we have reviewed over the years are excellent—some approaching exemplary in quality. The strong effort and personal integrity those staff members devoted to the task was evident.
One of our books quotes a former client who said: “Implementing this thing isn’t easy.”
We acknowledged him to be correct. The basic implementation processes, the commitment to focus on outcomes rather than strategies, the board’s pre-planning of its own work and agenda, the practice of actually governing from the level of policy rather than tinkering with stuff, can be a challenge. Perhaps most difficult is maintaining the personal and collective discipline to stay faithful to the governing system the board has created. Change goes against human nature.
A number of years ago, a senior administrator in one of our client districts commented to us: “Implementing this thing isn’t easy.”
He was right. A board’s willingness to pursue a Coherent Governance® or Policy Governance® project, its laborious work to develop sound policies, its serious attention to implementation coaching, and its formal adoption of the model do not in themselves assure successful implementation.
Over the years we have worked with hundreds of boards to help them define and clarify board roles. We typically begin with a question asking the board to identify its number one responsibility. Nine times out of 10, boards tell us that policy development is their primary job.
Now, be honest: does your board govern by policy? Sure, you approve a new policy or amend an old one now and then, but do you truly govern your district by making policy-level decisions, or do you spend most of your time dealing with operational issues? Test your answer: mentally reconstruct your last board meeting agenda. How many policy actions did you take?
Some school boards seem to govern well. Results show in the form of high student achievement, good interpersonal relations, an organization that operates effectively and efficiently, and strong public confidence and support.
But for every board that works well, there seem to be scores of others that simply can’t get their acts together.
Sometimes real life defies explanation. Some realities vary so greatly from logic that we see, but we can’t believe. We may even accept, but we can’t understand.
Such is the case with school board-superintendent relationships. How can one explain how such seemingly complementary roles can clash so greatly in practice? How can one employing entity so proudly announce to the world its “nearly perfect” choice for superintendent one year, only to see the wheels come completely off within a matter of months? What is it about this relationship that makes it so seemingly impossible for the people involved to reach common understanding about whose role it is to do what? And why is it that reasonable role definitions are so perpetually elusive?
Between us, we have had more than 40 years’ experience in association management. That means that we have seen a fair number of boards of directors come and go.
But our experience with boards goes deeper than that, much deeper. Our membership during those 40 years was comprised of boards, in our case publicly elected school boards. Some would say that particular kind of board carries its own special brand of challenge, and we would not debate that. But the main point to be understood is that not only have we worked with and for our own boards of directors, but we also served boards as members, trying to help make them as effective as possible. In terms of board behavior, there isn’t much we haven’t seen first-hand.