Modeling the Way in Leadership With School Board Evaluations
November 20th, 2023
From the classroom to the boardroom, all levels of public education have (or should
have) high expectations of shared accountability and engage in continuous improvement
models. And that extends to the governance team—the joint effort between the superintendent and the school board. Board self-evaluation tools help the governance team celebrate the board’s strengths while finding areas for improvement.
“When we talk about board self-evaluation, it gets into performance, how we manage boards, and what that looks like,” said NYSCOSS President Jason Andrews, Windsor CSD Superintendent, during his presentation at the NYSCOSS Fall Leadership Summit. Dr. Andrews and Dr. Michael Horning, Jr., EVP of SuperEval, co-presented the session Modeling the Way in Leadership with School Board Evaluations.
Role conflicts, process, direction, and interpersonal conflicts are four key pressure points that can be addressed through a board self-evaluation, according to Andrews. “The most common pieces are a lack of clarity and the misunderstanding about roles,” he said. “Where do board members learn what the role is? From what everybody in the community thinks it should be. It becomes tricky.”
NYSSBA says there are eight characteristics of effective school boards. Those include:
- Committing to a vision of high expectations and defining goals.
- Creating shared beliefs and values.
- Collaborating and communicating internally and externally.
- Using data for continuous improvement.
- Aligning and sustaining resources to meet district goals.
- Working as a team with the superintendent in an atmosphere of trust.
An annual board self-evaluation helps boards identify where they are highly effective and where there is room for improvement. When a self-evaluation is part of the annual process, it also helps the governance team navigate contentious situations.
According to Dr. Andrews, boards that don’t use a self-evaluation tend to wait until the superintendent’s evaluation to use that as a vehicle to talk about things that are not working well. Or they let it fester, and talk behind each other’s backs, often to the superintendent. A board self-evaluation becomes the entry point to these critical conversations.
But because there is no legal requirement for boards to complete a self-evaluation, it can become a reason boards choose not to do one, according to Horning. So, if there is no mandate, what can superintendents say to persuade their board?
“It goes back to modeling the way. There are certainly high expectations boards have, as they should have high expectations for students, teachers, administrators, and the superintendent,” Horning said. “But they should also have high expectations for the board governance piece.”
A self-evaluation followed creates opportunities for a focused board conversation around performance on key objectives.
An effective self-evaluation is comprised of four steps:
- Step 1: Agreeing on the instrument, process, and timeline. Each board member completes a self-assessment of the board’s professional practice, not any single board member.
- Step 2: Using the data to celebrate what is going well and the board’s strengths and to identify differing perspectives
to drive conversations.
- Step 3: Identifying annual board objectives.
- Step 4: Monitoring progress to determine results and repeat the process.
“Discussing the results cannot be lopped on to a regular meeting. It is not a public meeting and is not subject to Open Meetings Law, so there is safety around that,” Dr. Andrews said. “I think it’s critical to have outside facilitation because I think that if you think you can facilitate that conversation as a superintendent, I would argue you are not in your lane. There’s also the benefit that an outside facilitator does not have a horse in the race.”
Choosing a self-evaluation instrument is an important consideration. Using a paper-based tool is possible, but using an online platform like SuperEval simplifies the process.
“I can bring it up on the screen and say, let’s look at the results,” Andrews said. “If you’re already a SuperEval customer, it’s super easy for boards; it’s quick. If it’s too cumbersome they won’t want to do it.”
Incorporating a self-evaluation into the board’s protocols can help with new board member orientation. The board can use the information from the evaluation and retreat to build goals and commit to how the board will behave. However, Dr. Andrews cautions it’s important to separate board goals from district goals. Board goals are focused on board performance, not improving literacy scores, and not tackling students and staff mental health issues.
“In a lot of places, district goals are the board goals, and then superintendents wonder why boards micromanage,” Dr. Andrews said. “We want them to stay in their lane. So, let’s start with developing the goals within their lane. To do goal setting, we have to say where are we now and then to determine where we want to be. If you don’t have this process in place, then you really don’t have a great way to measure the current reality.”
Dr. Andrews and Dr. Horning are often asked the best timing for a board self-evaluation. The answer: it depends.
“We don’t want to do board self-evaluations simultaneously with the superintendent’s evaluation,” Dr. Andrews said. “We want it to be clear and distinct. And we want to do it on an annual basis.
Some boards choose the summer months. That can be a double-edged sword. New board members are participating somewhat blindly. However, by reviewing the professional practices it provides them an orientation. For that reason, fall can work well because newbies can feel like they can participate.
“One district likes to capture the end of year board experience before the board changes and that gives them data going into a retreat,” Harding said. “It’s captured a snapshot of the previous year’s work and helps avoid a contentious board member with an agenda who wants to create chaos in the process.”
Regardless of the tool or the timing, Dr. Andrews and Dr. Horning agree that an annual self-evaluation is essential to develop and maintain a highly effective board.
Bradley, K. (2023). Modeling the way in leadership with school board evaluations. Councilgram, 13(3), 8–9.
view the original article