Board-Savvy Superintendent

Effectiveness Begins With Ongoing Communication
By TERRE DAVIS/School Administrator, May 2018

THE SUPERINTENDENT KNEW when he started his position in a small, rural district that the school board was split in its views and communication among board members, employees and the community was in disarray.

After a short time on the job, he discovered one board member in particular was trying to micromanage the entire district by communicating directly with specific employees and then airing their grievances publicly. The board member disrupted meetings regularly, delivering his opinion on each issue without regard to meeting protocol. Though he was not the board chair, he appeared to dominate the rest of the board.

A school board election a few months after the superintendent began on the job resulted in a new board chair — much to the despair of the disruptive board member who had expected to be named chair. He made his displeasure of the election results widely known in public. While his attempts to dominate decisions continued at board meetings, the new chair overruled him each time.

New Measures
The superintendent and new board chair instituted a protocol for communication that included the following measures:

» A BOARD WORKSHOP defined the role of a board member, which in turn led to a roadmap for positive communication among board members, district employees and the community. The board adopted a policy on communication at its next meeting.

» A WEEKLY E-MAIL UPDATE, managed by the superintendent and sent to all board members, highlighted current activities in the district and other informational items. The superintendent would send additional e-mails about matters needing special attention. He kept the board apprised of his activities as a superintendent, such as relevant meetings within the community and outside of the district. He left no doubt to any board member that he was performing his duties as superintendent.

The only exception to sending the same communication to all board members would involve information of a sensitive nature; that would be directed solely to the board chair.

Typically, the board chair brings the sensitive issue, involving personnel or litigation for instance, before the entire board for discussion and decision. If one board member had a concern or question that may be of interest to all board members, then the superintendent shared the question and response in written form to the entirety of the board.

» A PRINTED PROMOTIONAL BROCHURE, developed by the district, promoted a positive view of board members and board service. It was shared with the public and provided at each board meeting. The brochure included a brief bio and photo of each board member and summarized the rules and regulations regarding board policies governing school board meetings and public participation at the beginning and at the end of each public session.

Transparent Communication
The new superintendent remains committed to supporting communication with all employees in the district, so he provides weekly, staff-specific updates about board actions, upcoming meetings, community activities and student events. He regularly solicits input from the instructional staff, support staff and students to obtain their ideas and concerns regarding upcoming decisions affecting the district.

Likewise, there are times when communication is targeted to a single important topic such as the district’s proposed levy increase requiring voter approval. In this situation, the superintendent must guide and support the school board in its communications to keep the community, employees and students informed and involved. He must ensure transparency is a priority in all communications.

A superintendent who keeps a board well-informed usually will reap the benefits of a secure, positive experience.
TERRE DAVIS, a former superintendent, is president of TD and Associates in Westcliffe, Colo., and school board president in Custer County, Colo.