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governancepictureAt this fall’s BC School Trustees Association (BCSTA) Fall Academy, recently retired Board Chair for West Vancouver Schools, Cindy Dekker, and I did a presentation on Authentic Leadership Through Ethical Governance.  The presentation for trustees and district staff broke out into three main areas: small things Boards can do that can make a big difference, key ways a superintendent can support the Board, and key ways the Board can support the superintendent.

As always, the West Vancouver School District’s story is the product of the history of community and district, and speaks to the many people who are involved. It is also important to note, Boards do have many more responsibilities, but this presentation was intended to give insights into strategies and approaches we have found successful over our last eight years working together in Board/District Leadership positions.

All presentation slides are included at the end of this post, but I would like to expand on Some Small Things That Can Make a Big Difference. Cindy and I spoke to six specific areas:

Some Little Things that Matter

Board Work Plan/Calendar – Our Board Work Plan serves as a check sheet for the work that needs to be accomplished. While it is far from an exhaustive list of the work done by the Board, as people move out of and into new roles, it helps to provide continuity. The Board Chair and I review (at least, twice per month) the Board Work Plan to ensure all items that need to come to the Board in any given month have been covered and that we are on track with our ‘regular’ work. By March, we are finalizing the calendar for the following year. From briefing meetings to committee schedules and community liaison meetings, the earlier we can have an established calendar the more respectful we can be to staff and Board members to allow them to plan their professional and personal schedules.

Regular Chair/Superintendent Meetings – While there are always texts and emails, we block out time to meet regularly, usually weekly.  The Board Chair would have her “Superintendent” list, and I would have my “Board Chair” list of items to review. While we attend many events together, regularly committing time to meet has been a very effective process.

Clear Delineation of Policies (Board) and Procedures (Superintendent) – In 2006, the Board worked with Leroy Sloan to update the Policies and Administrative Procedures in the district. The Board has 18 policies and by-laws that speak to their role in governance. The Administrative Procedures Manual, which is the responsibility of the superintendent, has more than 100-plus procedures that speak to the district’s daily operations. Of course, there are linkages between the two books and crossover between the work of the Board and the work of the superintendent, but this model does help to reaffirm roles in the organization.

Clear Superintendent Evaluation Process – Our Board uses the framework from the BCSTA for the Superintendent Performance Planning Review.  As a superintendent, having a clear view of the process is very important. With our model of policies and procedures, I have been given a high level of responsibility and, thus, should be held by the Board to a high level of accountability. In our district, all of our education staff participate in a growth plan model; our principals and vice-principals work with district staff on their growth plans and all teachers have growth plans they share with principals and colleagues. I meet with our Board three times each year to review my growth plan. I have three areas of focus — the first is from the role description that is in policy, another is based on the district’s strategic plan, and the third area of focus is personal-professional growth. I have previously blogged about my growth plan and shared it publicly here.

Strategic Planning – The Strategic Planning Process is written into policy in West Vancouver. Following a period of orientation, our Board engages in a strategic planning process. Looking ahead, this will likely be from March to June of 2015 with the goal of having a final document ready to share in the fall of 2015. There are many different models for strategic planning; the Board in West Vancouver has worked with Malcolm Weinstein, the last three terms, to support their work of building a high level of direction for the district.  Recent examples are available for 2009-11 and 2012-15 (PDF documents).

A Culture of Growth and Support – We are in the learning business and the more we can model that, the better. No matter how strong results might be, there are always opportunities to be better. The Board dedicates time at each of their meetings for school highlights. Each school has an opportunity to make a presentation during the course of the school year. Very often, this includes the sharing of new ideas and innovative approaches that are having an impact at schools. Recent highlights have included reports on outdoor learning spaces, libraries being converted to learning commons and approaches to communicating student learning that move beyond traditional report cards. Where people go, and what people talk about, speak to what organizations value — while the Board in West Vancouver places a focus on student learning, there is always a quest to find new ways to meet the needs of modern learners.

Likely, the reaction of many Board members and superintendents to this list is “nothing new there” and these, and many other little things, help Boards ensure they are high functioning. It is often these ‘little things’ that can make a huge difference. As Cindy and I both said in the presentation, “If you show us a district that is going strong, we are pretty sure you will find a Board and superintendent who are in sync and committed to doing what it takes to work together for students.”

Our full slide show is available here (if you are receiving this post via email you may need to view by going to the website):

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familydinner-1

This is an updated version of a previous post and is published in the May 2013 Issue of School Administrator.

The struggle to find balance between home life and the superintendency — the focus of School Administrator’s November 2012 issue — resonated with me and I am sure with many others who have very public positions in education. Just a few days earlier, I had come across on CNN’s website Michael Takiff’s column “Why Doesn’t Obama Like to Schmooze?” which addressed the challenges a U.S. president faces in balancing his highly public life with his more private family life.

Though on vastly different levels, the parallels are astounding.

In sharp contrast to former President Bill Clinton, who often spent evenings relentlessly connecting with financiers and lawmakers, Takiff points out that Obama works equally hard at being president but at the same time makes every effort to have a balanced family life. To quote from Takiff’s column: “[W]hile he is America’s only president, he is also his daughters’ only father; his duty to them demands that he take time out from his duty to his country. And so he makes sure that at 6:30 each evening he’s seated at the family dinner table. After the meal, he helps his daughters with their homework.”

Changing Rules

Takiff’s profile of Obama struck a chord because I am questioning if parenting is generation-oriented. Does parenthood differ today from that of previous generations? And how is technology affecting the paradigms of traditional work ethics?

Today, it is no longer a point of honour to be the first car in the office parking lot in the morning or the last one to leave at night. That was for many (and still is for some) an expression of hard work, but technology has made it possible to log work hours from a location of our choosing. Certainly, some aspects of my job require that I be present at my office and that I spend face time with others. But I can carry out other duties on my own, in the office, at home, in the evening or at first light of morning.

Since becoming a parent more than a decade ago (and now as the father of four), the first question I always ask when considering a job opportunity — before salary, before potential prospects, before anything else — is this: “What do the evening commitments look like?” Because, like President Obama, I am not interested in being an absentee parent. I am happy doing the work online late into the night and picking it up early the next day. But I want to reserve a window of time between 6 and 9 o’clock at night to engage with my kids on a regular basis.

Now in my third year as a superintendent, I do find the position is what one makes of it, and there are so many ways to do it right. Some superintendents are masters of the community, attending every community function. While this is important, one still needs to pick and choose how to spend one’s time. My focus tends to be about “getting the learning right” in the classrooms, and classrooms sometimes have been a priority over community. I realize what I attend speaks to what I say is important, so these decisions always are made carefully.

Family Friendly

If the president of the United States has figured out a way to be home most evenings by 6:30 to join his family, surely I (and those who work with me and have jobs like mine) can find new ways to be home for dinner a couple of nights a week. It is about choices and priorities.

To the credit of those I am working with in West Vancouver, British Columbia, from staff member to trustees, we are experimenting with more online meetings and looking at doing more of the face-to-face meetings during daytime hours. The six members of our district leadership team all have children in the K-12 system now, so this issue is relevant for all of us. We also have a governing board that is committed to modeling family-friendly values in the workplace.

So if the president can dine with his family most nights, that’s certainly good enough for me to aspire to.

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A long-held tradition in the West Vancouver District, the Growth Plan is one of the most powerful components of our learning culture. Every year, district teachers and administrators review their professional growth plan with opportunities to share their progress with others in their school, as well as across schools. The plan cycle is based on reflection, collaboration, data analysis and evidence.

West Vancouver Superintendents also participate in the same process.

Our Board of Education employs the BCSTA Performance Planning and Review for School Superintendents model, which is connected to my duties and to our Board’s Strategic Plan. We meet three times a year as part of the cycle of reviewing, renewing and updating the plan.

Based on the Board’s key objectives in the Strategic Plan, an initial performance plan with specific goals and a series of strategies is agreed to at the beginning of the year (outlined in the presentation below):

In a recent update to the Board, I shared evidence of my progress in each goal area under the individual strategies:

We will meet again in the fall, likely, in advance of the Board adopting a new Strategic Plan following the November elections.  This next session will both refine and guide my work.

There is a lot of discussion about accountability and improvement in education. This process of working with the Board to set clear goals, collecting and sharing evidence and being held accountable, is very effective.  The process itself supports the short and long-term development of my own goals and performance. And, it is a process that also fosters and strengthens relations with the Board through open communication, trust and clarity of role expectations.

We all want to be better at what we do, and it is great to work in a district where continuous improvement for all is part of the culture.

I am looking forward to extending this plan further in the fall.

IF YOU ARE RECEIVING THIS VIA EMAIL YOU MAY NEED TO GO TO THE BLOG TO SEE THE EMBEDDED SLIDES.

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The title of this post is borrowed from a quote I recently saw from Brian Kuhn, the technology leader with the Coquitlam School District.  This quote struck me because 1)  he is right and 2) this is a dramatic change in thinking in just a couple years.

When I spoke at Opening Day for our district in early September, I described how technology, sustainability, and transparency are three themes that are underlying the work we do, and will continue to be very influential for all operations in our district.  Gary Kern, our Principal of Technology and Innovation, in speaking with our Board of Education last week, also emphasized the role of sustainability in his work as he described our district’s technology strategy for this year.  While we don’t want to limit a discussion on sustainability to printing and paper consumption, it is clearly part of our commitment in this area.

Until the past couple of years, our efforts in school districts have been to make printing more convenient.  What started as photocopiers in the office, spread to multiple copiers in schools, then to printers in computer labs to, in some places, printers in most rooms and at many work stations.  The cost of printers came down, and the need for convenience drove changes.  Until coming to West Vancouver three years ago, I had spent the previous decade with a printer on my desk.

The paper tide has been shifting.  While printers have come down in price, we have become increasingly aware of the ink and paper costs that eat-up supply budgets in school districts, and sustainability has moved to the forefront of discussions.  At the same time, technology has allowed us to digitally replicate activities which previously had been limited to being done on paper.

Today our school newsletters have moved to being almost exclusively digital.  Even with a conservative estimate of 30 pages of newsletters sent home with each child in a given year, this savings is over 200,000 sheets of paper.  This year we have also begun to move permission forms to the digital environment.  In addition to the savings in staff time, just at school start-up alone, we are photocopying 30,000 fewer sheets of paper because of this one change.  These changes in our business practices will only continue as our websites continue to evolve as our primary communication tool with our students, parents and community.

As teachers experiment with virtual classrooms, we are seeing more teachers taking advantage of “hand in” boxes that allow students to submit assignments and teachers to assess work without a paper copy ever having to be made.

So, back to the quote that led off this post, “printing will continue to become more inconvenient”.  Over the next few years we will have fewer copiers and fewer printers.  Resources that have been spent on ink and paper can be redirected in schools to other needs.  I suggested on Opening Day that we could reduce our paper consumption by 20% this year.  When we look to hit print on our computer, or use the Xerox, we should be always asking ourselves if we are doing this because we need to do it, or because we have always done it this way.

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