“We don’t have a failing school problem, we have a failing leadership problem”! – Erroll Davis
Leading any school or school District is not easy. There are a lot of major decisions and long nights that go into ensuring that children and families receive the best education possible. Serving as a Board member and now Chairman of Ivy Preparatory Academy in Atlanta, Georgia has opened my eyes to the urgency of effective leadership. Effective governance builds effective schools. Our Superintendent, Alisha Thomas Morgan is a part of the Chiefs for Change program, developing today’s and tomorrow’s educational leaders. She shared an article with me that really gave insight to the importance of healthy working relationships between Superintendent’s and school boards. I believe that all school Districts have their share of controversy and conflict, but in working in and serving urban districts, the challenges are very unique.
Below are some best practices I’ve found success with building an effective governing board and partnership with our Superintendent.
- Building Your Team
- Knowing Your Base
- Reclaiming Your Narrative
Superintendent’s and school boards do play a role in the success or failure of schools. That’s why it’s important that as leaders we build our team. One misconception is that building your team means putting your friends in positions of power. This is a formula for disaster. You never want to have a team full of yes people or do you want a team of people who will only do what you want. When we rebuilt our leadership at Ivy, we looked at our challenges and failures to determine how to bridge the gap to success. You want to look for leaders who can follow just as well as they lead, know their craft and can produce results for the good of the order. You want individuals who are going to place integrity first and can’t be bought. Leadership has to be effective within a political context but driven solely by politics. Reform within the classroom isn’t enough. School Board members work with Superintendent’s to drive reform for education in order to ensure that the children and families we serve receive the best quality education.
Every school board faces challenges. One thing I learned quickly is that you must know all the ends and outs of what your organization and what the issues are. Expect challenges around budget shortfalls, growing numbers of at risk students and ever changing federal and state mandates. Ensuring that financial operations, staff professional development, communication and academic growth measures have policies to support and ensure this work is done helps school board’s govern effectively. You cannot manage a school district that doesn’t have processes and procedures around finances, academic rigor, teacher effectiveness and communication.
When you aren’t in control of the narrative, the outside begins to determine what your level of success looks like. Coming into Ivy, we had a lot of challenges and hurdles to cross. Superintendent Morgan and I agreed that we definitely need to ensure that we control the narrative. Controlling the narrative of your school simply means ensuring that communication between stakeholders is fluid and focused. It also requires that you are planned, focused and intentional about student/family success. What’s communicated about your school district determines if the public views you’re functional or dysfunctional. What stated about your work is what people will expect. As leaders, you have to ensure that the policies you put into place are effectively working. Our word is our bond! The biggest role of the school board is to ensure that what we say we’re providing for children and families is actually happening.
Poor governance is reflected through micromanagement, conflict of duties, lack of communication and confusion over roles. As leaders, we must focus on creating goals and improving instruction for every child.