One of our books quotes a former client who said: “Implementing this thing isn’t easy.”We acknowledge 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 […]
The principles of “coherent governance” guide the Board of Education in its decision-making and relationship to the district administration. Do you believe coherent governance is a good model? Why or why not?
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.
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?
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.