Building a Culture of Accountability – The Right Way

Five buckets of wisdom to help a governing board hold its CEO accountable for achievement.

Case Study:  Literacy

Bill sat with his Board as Results for Student Achievement were developed.  He not only agreed, but wholeheartedly asserted, that literacy is job number one in the district.  He defined what literacy means to him and to his staff and presented to the Board the indicators, the measures, he would use to gauge achievement.  Further, he established baseline data of current achievement and the projected one year and five year targets, disaggregated by subgroups.

Year five into monitoring literacy achievement:  The Board looked up at the proverbial Power Point presentation and down at the accompanying paper report.  Members struggled to understand the graphs, charts, numbers and the missing data about speaking and listening skills. They heard two staff members review all the new programs and professional development activities that had been undertaken.

But when a board member asked for the data analysis, members simply got an oral repetition of the numbers on the page with an assertion that staff “believes” staff are working hard and their programs are working.

The newest board member became impatient and demanded, “Let’s put this all together, Bill.  Are students, or are they not, achieving the targets you established and we agreed to?  Are you asking us to analyze this incomplete data and make a decision on our own?  In the business world, this lack of clear reporting would cost someone their job!”

The room went silent.  The board president called for a motion to dispose of the report.  The majority, not wanting to embarrass the CEO, tabled the report to give the staff more time to gather and present accurate data.

Another year without knowing if students across this diverse district were making projected gains in everyone’s job number one:  literacy.

How does a board hold its staff accountable for achieving results?

  1. Establish Results policies with absolutely clear expectations.  What is to be achieved?  By whom?  Within what timeframe?  Have staff contribute their expertise and engage fully in the conversation.  Require the CEO to respond in writing, and in an oral presentation, his/her understanding of your expectation and how s/he will prove success (choice of indicators and targets) at an agreed upon date on the annual calendar;
  2. Establish clear capability of staff.  Is your Superintendent an instructional leader with the skills and knowledge to lead and direct staff?  Does he or she have the requisite professionals and budget to do the job agreed to in the timeframe agreed to?  Does staff know what they are being asked to do?
  3. Establish updates on your calendar.  Data comes in throughout the year letting staff know if they are on track to achieve the targets.  The board must be clear that it is focused on the targets and that it wants to be kept informed of gains and setbacks, that it expects to receive formative analyses, to know if areas need to be targeted for immediate attention, if different resource allocation or remediation are necessary.  In other words, don’t wait for the annual monitoring report to find out, “Houston, we have a problem.”
  4. Establish norms for the conversations and reports.  This is about “truth telling” between a board and its CEO.  A culture of honest reporting and analyses focused on students is based on the clarity of your Results expectations and their achievement.  Do you have the right people, focusing on the right job to make it happen?  You must engage in the conversation about necessary support and also be clear that the outcomes are not a suggestion.
  5. Establish consequences for performance.  Evaluations should be an honest reflection of achievement on Results – the number one reason schools exist.  For Bill and this board, were students becoming more literate?  To the level agreed to?  If so, commendation!  If not, are the right people in charge?  Do changes need to be made, by when?

Yes, there are many variables in achieving Results:  changing demographics, standards, and assessments.  But at the end of the day, communities expect that students are literate and that boards can prove they are!

Accountability begins with the board to the citizens and students.  It calls for role clarity, support and performance.  Have you done 1-5 above?  Try it!