Board-Savvy Superintendent

Leader's Role in Orienting Board Newcomers
By ALFRED J. ANNUNZIATA/School Administrator, August 2017

Transitions provide opportunities for excitement, uncertainty and, yes, confusion. As a middle school principal, I learned young adolescents are highly vulnerable beings. When I was a superintendent, I found new board of education members experience similar emotions.

Because board work is in progress when new members join, they enter a moving bus that is already en route to a destination. The experience is one of excitement about a new adventure combined with some fear of the unknown.

A Sharing Function
The school board develops an effective orientation program to address these needs, yet superintendents are a critical resource for new members and should play an active role. As the chief education officer, the superintendent possesses the knowledge and understanding to support and inform new members about the district, its operations, strengths, challenges and current board agendas.

Setting aside time and meeting with new members as an introduction can be an excellent opportunity to share important items, establish yourself as a listener, get to know newcomers, help them get to know you and respond to their questions. Building early rapport can empower members, assist you in your leadership role and further board relations.

Because building personal trust is critical, communication from the beginning can establish a solid foundation for the future. If members don’t receive accurate and updated information from you, they will seek it elsewhere. During my interactions with newly elected or appointed members as a field services representative for the school boards association in New Jersey, I reminded them, “While it is important to you why you ran for the board, it is more important to others why you serve.”

A familiar scenario you may encounter involves a new board member who ran on an austere budget platform, promising budget cuts and belt tightening. Sharing the current district budget, educating the member about fixed costs, contract agreements and the educational needs of your students will establish a baseline perspective rooted in reality. This foundation, along with your guidance on the short- and long-term impact of budget adjustments, will go a long way to help the newcomer understand the realistic cause and effect of resource allocations.

Content Delivery
To ensure your newcomers to the school board are given an appropriate start, I’d recommend they be provided with the following by the superintendent and/or district staff members:

» Basic information: An overview of the district website; the district configuration of schools and grade levels; and enrollment data.

» Contacts and information: Phone numbers and e-mail addresses of the superintendent, business administrator, all board members and committee chairs.

» Documents: District mission, vision/belief statements and goals; district calendar/handbook; board meeting dates; policy manual access; employment contracts; current budget; district organizational chart; code of ethics; strategic/facilities/curriculum/technology plans; and recent board meeting minutes.

» Board governance details: A review of how the board is organized (committee or board of the whole); how the agenda is set; the chain of command; who speaks for the board; reorganizational meeting agenda; what is confidential; preferred communication vehicles; and board practices.

» Facilities tour: A facilities visit with an administrative tour guide.

Involving key stakeholders such as the board president and business administrator for portions of the new member orientation can offer unique and meaningful perspectives and details. Ask them to provide some content for the orientation agenda.

While your state school boards association may provide excellent training and a general overview of the roles of members and their boards, the superintendent and his or her board are best positioned to address district-specific operations and local relationships.
Alfred Annunziata, a former superintendent in two New Jersey districts, is a retired field service representative for the New Jersey School Boards Association in Trenton, N.J. E-mail: