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Posts Tagged ‘Board Chair’

supportThis is a follow-up post to my recent post regarding Board Governance – Some Small Things That Can Make a Big Difference. This post picks up on a couple of other areas that recently retired Board Chair, Cindy Dekker, and myself shared with trustees and senior staff colleagues at the BCSTA’s Fall Academy. We looked at little things superintendents can do to support Boards and small things Boards can do to support superintendents and district senior staff. In support of the Boards I spoke about:

How Superintendent Supports the Board

Regular Briefings on District Issues and Topics – These are briefing meetings or trustee workshops (different Boards have different names for the meetings). We regularly schedule time for the superintendent and members of the District Leadership Team to in-service trustees on issues and topics. These are not decision-making sessions; rather, these meetings are an occasion to ensure trustees have a like understanding on any particular topic. While the meetings can occur anytime during the year, we do reserve time prior to public Board meetings for these important sessions.

Clear Processes – Nothing can be less helpful than a muddy process. For trustees to make a thoughtful, informed decision there must be a clear process and inclusive of the community. This is an area where the superintendent can provide important guidance. As an example, say a teacher, parent, trustee or community member wants to start a new program in the district. We have a very clear Choice Consultative Committee process to guide us through and to ensure the good ideas are thought through, planned and come to fruition.

Orientation – Trustee orientation is built into policy in our school district. Elections are held in November, and the period up to spring break is taken to focus on orientation for all trustees. Again, it is important for all trustees to have a like understanding of all information. So, we have built a “101” series, like a set of first-year university introductory courses. Each week, trustees will work with staff on learning an understanding a different aspect of the organization. Areas include: working with the superintendent, budget and finance, human resources and bargaining, curriculum and provincial learning directions, Aboriginal education, Student Support Services, International Programs and Facilities.

Share Information with All Trustees – When a trustee asks the superintendent a general question via email, I respond to all trustees. It is symbolic about how we work together. If it is a question for one trustee, it is likely a question for all.

Media and Emergencies – We are clear about who will be the spokesperson for different issues and also ensure we have consistency and clarity in our messaging to staff and the community. In our context, the superintendent is most often the spokesperson and will loop in the Board Chair on any emerging and media topics.

Ensure Profile for the Trustees – West Vancouver is a community with an outstanding public education system and with strong independent schools. It is crucial the public education story stays front and centre in our community. The superintendent can work to ensure that the important work and leadership of trustees are highlighted at community events and in local newspapers.

 

In the area of Board support for superintendents, Cindy spoke about:

Board Supports Superintendent

 

Respectful of Staff Time and Work/Family Balance – Our Board has been very respectful to the fact that most staff in district leadership positions have young families. If the superintendent needs to attend an event with trustees, there are no expectations that senior staff must attend as well. Trustees and staff look at the calendar of community events and share responsibilities — not, all trying to attend all events. Also, the Board has moved to a mix of daytime/evening committee and Board meetings to allow for a better balance regarding work commitments.

Referring operations issues to the Superintendent – Often, when a trustee receives an email that is individually addressed to them, all trustees will have received the same email, as has the superintendent and others. When an issue comes in that is clearly operational, by policy, trustees immediately include the superintendent and a plan is made as to who is the most appropriate person to respond.

Saying “Thank You” to Staff –  From Board highlights of staff accomplishments, to a staff Christmas party (more than 200 staff members attended a district party in early December), to an annual retirement gathering, the Board continually works to acknowledge all staff — teachers, administrators and support staff, because this makes a huge difference in fostering the family type climate and culture in our schools and district. Our Board Chair will regularly write dozens of notes and send regular emails recognizing the work of staff.

Sharing concerns immediately with a Look to Problem-solving Together – When there is a problem or concern, one can either look to someone to blame, or work together to find a solution. In my eight years in West Vancouver, the latter has been the focus. Whether it is a tricky issue like budget reductions, or the process of specialty programs, or facility initiatives that have multiple stakeholders, trustees have worked with staff to find problem-solving solutions.

Being the eyes and ears in the community – We are always checking for tone and themes because trustees have a unique position in the community and district. They can be in a supermarket, on a soccer field, walking on the seawall, but they often receive ongoing and often unsolicited feedback about how we are doing in our schools. And, it is tricky to know what to do with this information. Again, in my eight years with the district, the trustees have not looked  to draw immediate conclusions from what they hear, but do share the information with the superintendent, not necessarily out of a need for action, but to assist the superintendent in their job — clear information is always a good thing.

Again, it is important to give a similar caveat that I gave in my earlier post on Board governance. This is hardly an exhaustive list of the Board’s work, but is intended to highlight some small things that can make a big difference. It is also important to reaffirm there are many ‘right ways’ to go about Board governance and the model we have built is one.

Finally, our model is an ongoing work in progress as we continually look to be better.

 

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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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