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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Greeley District 6 School Board Election: Brave Souls Seeking Hot Seats

It is time for Greeley Colorado's District 6 School Board elections to take place. First out of the dugout are Doug Kershaw and Brett Reese. These are the new kids on the block. Judy Kron, Doug Lidiak, Linda Trimberger are existing members and already serving, whether elected or appointed, and are looking for voter approval.

I am not going to point to profiles for the candidates until I can find a good one for every one. The Tribune has minimalistic values they are using to describe the candidates. The District 6 website has profiles on the existing members. I'd like to give the new "kids" time to get their public relation materials up and out before I link to anything. Incumbents always have an advantage because they have name recognition.

In the meantime I've been trying to sort out whether the new alternative education high school Trademark West that just opened pulled a couple of hundred low performing kids off the progress reports for District 6. That certainly would help give a positive impression of the District. And, if it isn't true and the stats issued to the public are correct then that is a deflation of my argument that the District isn't putting a heck of a lot of focus on low-level performers.

But I will get into a heavier critique the closer to ballot day. Right now I thought it might be prudent to publish what voters need to be looking for as qualities and skills in their educational leadership. Good hair, good teeth, and over six feet tall really doesn't do it. I went to grade school and I know it is a popularity contest when running for a public position in grade school but it would be really nice if we could put bags over every body's head and just vote for the people who can get the job done. District 6 needs the community to do it's job. The kids graduating from District 6 need voters to get beyond the special interest politics and get as much support for effective management on board as possible.

I don't think there are many people around town who will argue that point with me.

So here is my first post in a series on Greeley's District 6 School Board election. this post will concentrate on the qualities suggested for effective school board members.

First a quick view of what the school board's primary responsibilities are all about. (If you have one to add to the list give me an email please).

  • Set the vision and goals for the district (effective goal setting leads to objective achievement and objective achievement leads to vision achievement in both the short term and into the future. Basically it keeps the ship heading to the right port without wasting a lot of money trying to get to London by going around the Cape Horn, so to speak.)
  • Adopt policies that give the district direction to set priorities and achieve its goals (In my personal view this is a key quality. A wily administrator can maneuver policies in front of a Board that will meet their personal agenda. While their personal agenda might, or might not, be a set of good ideas it is important that Board members have enough experience with management practices (not necessarily education specific) to watch out for this type of manipulation and truly ensure that the Board is making good policy decisions that work for everybody--management included, but concentrate on strategies that will achieve the best for the students and bring the vision into the right port.)
  • Adopt and oversee the annual budget (A school budget isn't like your personal checkbook. It is a complex, dynamic, and complicated guide.)
  • Manage the collective bargaining process for employees of the district (key to quality personnel and key to controlling costs--a double edge sword).
  • Hire and evaluate the superintendent (The superintendent is key and the one in District 6 makes nearly $185,000 + perks. That's almost half of the base salary President Obama gets for running the leading nation of the free world. The board needs to expect, demand, and make accountable their employee for returning superior service to the community's education system which reflects the community's investment. The superintendent will set the tone and culture for all District 6 employees--including teachers. Not a small job in and by itself.)

Which leads us to a few statements on what type of skills and qualities will be required for the school board candidates to possess. There are many different regional and state views, recommendations, and discussions on the topic. One of the best resources I have ever used comes from Jossey-Bass. I have used this company's textbooks for other work as well and they produce a high quality product. If you have one, another skill or quality, to add, again, please send me an email or post a comment. Clicking on the top link will take you to one site on the topic. There are several with many ideas.

It takes a lot of work to build an effective school board. Time spent reading, studying, attending board governance lectures, building a good board governance policy, and simply understanding how a good board works together and delegates to its employee. Relating to the community generally comes with trial and error plus a witch-hunt now and again.
Functioning Cohesively as Group

A healthy decision-making process naturally flows from board members working together to fulfill their responsibilities. When school board members gel as a unit, they exhibit many characteristics of other well-functioning groups: a shared respect and trust that recognizes the contribution of each individual, a feeling of cohesiveness, shared goals for the board, able leadership within the board (often the board president), shared values, and agreement on the board's operating rules.

Exercising Appropriate Authority
In discussing their ability to act effectively, board members speak of the need to negotiate the delicate balance between exercising authority and supporting the school district's chief executive. Traditional governance wisdom suggests that you hire the best chief executive and then get out of his or her way. Board interviews indicate that it's not that simple. The superintendent's recommendation may be clearly contrary to the board's sense of what is important or supported by the community, or the superintendent may violate prior understanding of proposed action. In these are other situations, boards feel they must exercise independent authority.

Connecting to the Community
The board serves as a liaison between the district and the community. An effective board understands what the community wants and explains to the community what it believes to be in the best interest of children.

The process works both ways. The long-established tradition of local control of education is based on the value of the community shaping its schools and of the schools "belonging" to the community. This close relationship contributes to greater community participation in the education of its children and interest in how the schools operate. Even in the context of current times, which see a decline in the number of households with school-age children, fewer volunteers, and a diminishing respect for public schools, interest in education is intense.

As communities become more diverse, so do their values. Building understanding and support becomes an increasing challenge. The board's role in explaining actions to the community and ensuring consideration of all points of view becomes increasingly important.

Working Toward Board Improvement
When boards talk about effectiveness, one area they center on is self-improvement. This shouldn't be surprising. Forty percent of board members have three or fewer years of experience. They say in interviews that it takes them two years to understand their board roles well enough to be fully effective. Furthermore, it is through ad hoc, unplanned contact with other board members and the superintendent that they learn much of what they know.

Acting Strategically
Board members discuss and resolve issues that are central to helping children learn. They plan systematically and for the long term, taking into consideration the needs and concerns of internal and external constituents, all the while balancing reality and politics. They match plans against results. They organize responsibilities and authority between superintendent and the board to adjust for strengths and weaknesses. Boards that can accomplish these tasks can deal effectively with crises, especially when they have no choice but to act.

Now all we need to find out is if each candidate can fit this bill. I'll try to find email addresses for the new candidates and see if I can get statements from them. I can get the incumbent email addresses from the District 6 website and I'll forward this posting to each one also in case they would like to respond. I'll have to work for the other two emails. In the meantime if someone has got 'em.... please pass the potatoes via phone or email. Thanks.

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