Many of you who are running for school board or who are already on school board participated in an online "webinar" recently regarding the state ethics policy currently in the process of being written. In 2008, the Commission for School Board Excellence was asked by the State Board of Education and State Superintendent to examine Georgia’s public school systems’ board governance. Among other recommendations, the Commission recommended that the State Board “convene a Task Force of education leaders and organizations to address the following three areas of school board focus:
board roles and responsibilities
state-wide school performance standards
comprehensive board member education and proficiency
There are some really strong statements in the resulting policy, called, Standards for Effective Governance of Georgia School Systems, which is still in draft form. Below are a few randomly selected paragraphs from the draft.
“Schools are major public institutions in our democracy. They serve the public and are a key link between democracy and education. School board members are critical to the principle of public accountability. Public schools are the ultimate in grass roots democracy.”
– The Commission for School Board Excellence (2008)
An effective governance model familiar to corporate and public sector leaders is the Board Governance model. The board model of oversight for public education permits public scrutiny and lies at the heart of the school board of governance. Citizen “ownership” is fundamentally different from traditional management. . . .
School board governance is based upon the trusteeship ideology that the board works as one body representing the entire community. Imbedded in the concept of board action on behalf of a larger group of citizen owners, is a shared focus on results, a good faith and honest effort to fulfill the oversight role. Governance of a school board acts for the owners to ensure that the current executive officer fulfills the mission of the organization and ensures its future sustainability. This understanding of a legal and logical entity held accountable is at the core of the American business model. The entity is run by executives, and those executives are accountable to the shareholders through a board of directors. . . .
To quote John Carver, “board governance represents ownership one level down, not management one level up.” School boards, as with corporate boards, must ensure that the school system fulfills its mission while ensuring confidence in the process of governance. Boards, individually and collectively, must model leadership integrity and instill confidence in the governance team. Effective boards ensure good stewardship of funds, demonstrate ethical behavior, plan for and support system-wide student achievement of accepted standards. Along with mission alignment, it is common on most for-profit and non-profit boards that certain behaviors are expected: professional courtesy, open and enlightening discussion about future plans and requirements for results from current outcomes and operations. . . .
In order to reinforce the notion of partnership and address the vague and often confusing language that currently exists in this area, the standards employ the term governance leadership team to identify the leadership group composed of the board and superintendent. This group is distinguished from the management leadership team, which is usually composed of the superintendent and senior school system administrators. . . .
A final principle associated with the standards is the evolution from a compliance-based model to a performance-based model. Simply stated, the Task Force amended the process that is often used to develop standards for job performance. The traditional process typically examines the roles and responsibilities of persons in the role and describes the desirable behavior associated with these roles and responsibilities. The Task Force, recognizing that a new level of performance is needed from school board members, took the approach of considering how the role of the school board member should evolve to meet the demands of the current social, political, and economic context, and developed prescriptive language for the standards. In other words, the Task Force moved from simply describing what is, to prescribing what should be. . . .===
Interesting. I am encouraged by the vision this task force seems to have for the future of school board governance. It seems that the main takeaway is that we need to move our boards away from the management process of being reactive to being proactive. We need leaders who can visualize the future and hold school administrators accountable to defined goals. We need school systems that focus on students and their needs and achievements, not on administrative tasks, construction management or specialty programs. We need a new plan—this has become an emergency.