Policy Considerations in Response to COVID-19
How does a school board give direction to a CEO trying to adapt and deliver education, meals, safety during a pandemic? Just as it does during normal times: through policy.
Coherent Governance was not built for use only during calm waters. In fact, CG’s effectiveness is greater during turbulent times such as those we live in now than at any other time. During periods of crisis, organizations must be nimble enough to make decisions on the fly. If administrative leaders are forced to gain board approval before responding to life-or-death challenges, the small problems of today risk becoming out of control obstacles of tomorrow.
Your CEOs are being required to make immediate decisions as they adapt to circumstances most have never considered before. They are addressing the fundamental issues of safety and security of students and staff – and they must be fleet of foot. At the same time, they need to know that the decisions they make are within with the board’s operational parameters, as stated in policy. Intelligent risk-taking has never been more required.
Your policies were built to provide guidance and guardrails during such times. But the time may be appropriate for boards to at least discuss the organization’s performance against the stated values of their policies.
Here are some policies worthy of board discussion in order to help the board maintain confidence that its values have been stated adequately in order to empower the CEO to do the job.
1. Discuss your OE policy on Communicating with the Board:
- “The Superintendent shall assure that the Board is fully and adequately informed about matters relating to Board work and significant organizational concern.”
- Consider sub-policy #2: “Provide for the Board in a timely manner information about trends, facts and other information relevant to the board’s work.”
- Consider #12: “Inform the Board in advance of any deletions of, additions to or significant modifications of any instructional program.”
Have a discussion about what the board needs to know and within what timeframe. Is the superintendent’s interpretation adequate to meet current conditions? Is the board satisfied with the timeliness and the adequacy of the information it is receiving? Are there matters the board needs more information about?
2. Review your OE policy on Instructional Program. Instructional methods are changing daily. Is more policy language needed to free the superintendent to make critical instructional decisions?
- Consider reviewing “encourage new and innovative programs, carefully monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of all such programs at least annually”.
- What about a new biggie: “adequately monitor and control student access to and utilization of electronically distributed information?”
- How will the district assess student performance when instruction is being delivered remotely?
3. Consider the OE policy on Learning Environment.
- What can be monitored when students are not physically present?
- How can the district make today’s conditions conducive to learning when they have only indirect access to the students themselves?
4. Review your policy on Personnel Administration.
- How can employees be evaluated effectively?
- How will retention choices be made?
- Will compensation and benefits be affected?
5. Discuss the board’s policy on Financial Planning.
- What are the financial scenarios being built in the business office?
- How can fiscal soundness in the future be assured?
6. Consider the OE policy on Financial Administration.
- Are the district’s financial processes and protections affected by current operational challenges?
These are only a few of the policies that were designed to see the board and district through trying times—not just through calm times. It is during conditions such as those we currently live in that boards are tempted to take the position that “now is the time to roll up our sleeves and get control of these decisions.“
In reality, these are precisely the times when boards need to avoid reverting to the “joy of decision-making.” It is fair and reasonable to review your policies to verify that your concerns have been addressed. It is reasonable to discuss how the policies are being interpreted and implemented. It is even understandable that some might be monitored out of sequence in to reassure the board that conditions remain compliant.
But it is not time to resort to what for some is human nature by setting aside your policies in order to deal with unexpected circumstances.
Trust the system you have built. It will serve you well.