The Greek philosopher Diogenes was said to have walked about
in the daylight with a lamp, seeking an honest man. If alive today, he might instead be seeking
accountable school boards.
Whether there to serve and govern a traditional district or
a charter academy (also a Michigan public school), school boards sometimes fall
short of the performance we should expect of public officials entrusted with
such important responsibilities.
Why? Here are but a
few reasons ...
boards sometimes believe they are there to loyally support and defend the way
things are — regardless of district or charter school performance.
boards sometimes believe they are just "volunteers" who really can't do
much under such circumstance.
boards sometimes believe they are there to actually help run the operation,
and end up lending an uninformed hand not much appreciated by those paid
to do so.
those who engage in the "training" of board members typically focus on the
protocols of office rather than the essentials of good governance, leading
to the danger of emphasizing process over purpose and substance.
boards have not developed a sound understanding of the governance versus
management distinction and why it is so essential to school success.
Even though a school board may fall short of fully accountable
governance, the public often accepts the status quo. Yet the public isn't
really much at fault. How can the
public demand board accountability if history doesn't reveal what it should
look like, or the board itself does not have a solid understanding of its governance
Fortunately, there is an effective means for righting the
ship that needs righting. To that end, we
suggest boards take the following steps:
adopt a substantive job description — it all starts there!
Since governing boards, unlike other
types (advisory, etc.), hold ultimate authority for the organization, a school board's job description
should look something like this:
"To make sure the school district
or charter school is working as expected and as deserved by the public!"
This job description, or one
similar, focuses on the essence of governance — to take full and final local
accountability for the performance of the district or charter school.
out that job by establishing (in concert with management) clear expectations
for performance — encompassing, at a minimum, the areas of:
these expectations in concise and written form, monitor performance along
the way and continually assess the outcomes.
the temptation to meddle in administrative matters.
When a board follows this road map, it demonstrates accountability
for its own performance and, more important, for the overall performance of the
district or charter school it governs.
Regardless of any disagreement with the preceding observations
and suggestions, perhaps all might agree it is time to fully recognize that
school boards are in fact and by legal design the final point of education accountability
at the local level.
Given their position, either by election (traditional districts)
or appointment (charters), board members should be expected to show responsible
leadership by governing effectively and standing ready to be held accountable
for doing so.
Boards that govern well do so not by making countless final
decisions that demonstrate their authority, but rather by serving as the leadership
source that provides the overall vision, direction and accountability for public
education at the local level. Such leadership is a true service to Michigan
public school students and families.
Bob Glees is the Executive Governance Consultant for the Michigan
Association of Charter School Boards. He is a former elected school board
member and has also held a number of executive positions in Michigan's public
sector. MACSB can assist conventional and charter school boards on implementing
and carrying out an accountable school governance model. For more information,
please call 517-819-4777 or e-mail info@MACSB.org.