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January/February 2017

Ask the Staff: Cultivating strong relationship
by Patrick Rice

Patrick Rice, IASB field services director for Egyptian, Illini, Shawnee, and Wabash Valley divi-sions, answers this issue's question.

Can IASB assist our school board in cultivating strong board/superintendent relationships?

As trustees for the community, the school board has a lot to juggle, including formulating and adopting policy centered on student learning and organizational effectiveness. With so many responsibilities, IASB's field services directors are often asked what should be the board's number-one priority. This is a discerning question, because board members realize they must prioritize their work if they are going to be successful at governing the affairs of the district.

Be careful to see the forest when looking at its trees. Board members often respond to this question by focusing on key details, but fail to understand the larger principle of what will ultimately determine the board's success. For instance, Bill Nemir, a former division director of Texas Association of School Boards, noted that many board members say their primary obligation either lies with the taxpayer or the students. These areas are certainly important, but to meet those obligations, the primary responsibility of the board is to ensure good governance on the governance team. Without practicing good governance, the board's success in carrying out district ends (mission, vision, goals) and other priority areas are minimized.

Practicing good governance is the key to successful districts. How can boards improve their governance? An effective board must first determine its level of performance as a governance team. Often, boards fall into one or more of the following stages of team development described as "forming, storming, norming, and performing" in the work of Bruce Tuckman, a noted psychologist in the areas of educational psychology and group dynamics. According to Tuckman, teams generally progress through each of these four stages beginning with forming, where boards first begin to establish their identity to performing when teams are governing effectively.

Equally important, effective boards develop and maintain a productive relationship with the superintendent consisting of mutual respect and a clear understanding of respective roles, responsibilities and expectations as noted in IASB's Foundational Principles of Effective Governance. An effective board needs an effective superintendent and vice-versa.

Enhancing the governance team and establishing and cultivating a successful relationship do not happen in a vacuum. How can the IASB assist boards in maneuvering through various stages of team development while simultaneously cultivating strong board/superintendent relationships? IASB's field services directors work with districts to assess five common governance areas that commonly impact stages of team development and the relationship between boards and their superintendent. Generally, governance areas that often wreak havoc for the governance team entail one or more of the following: role and duties, goal alignment, expectations, communications, and personality.

How can boards determine which one or more of these following governance areas needs improvement? IASB directors can identify the board's governance training needs. A common method is for the board to engage in a board self-evaluation to identify areas of concern. If concerns are identified, the field services director can provide the board with additional training based on their needs assessment. Additionally, boards may elect to participate in IASB's Board/Superintendent Relations workshop which discusses all five common governance areas. Regardless of which method is utilized, the IASB is here to help the governance team consistently monitor and assess their stages of growth and relationship between the board and its superintendent if they are to ensure good governance.

Visit www.iasb.com/pdf/fieldservicecatalog.pdf to learn more.

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