Kara Coglianese is currently the superintendent of St. George School District 258, located in Bourbonnais.
One of the most important and time-consuming jobs that school board members have is to execute school governance through the monthly school board meeting. Experienced school board members understand the importance of running a “good” meeting. Many have probably agonized through a few bad ones to know how to best avoid them. Here are 10 top “do’s” that school board members should remember:
Have a good agenda. Having a well-organized and prepared agenda that focuses on school governance is essential. The board president and superintendent should work collaboratively to plan and set the agenda.
Utilize a well-constructed consent agenda. A consent agenda groups the routine, procedural, and informational or self-explanatory non-controversial items together in order to streamline the full agenda. Items to include in a consent agenda are: minutes from a previous meeting, informational items, monthly and quarterly reports, committee and staff reports, appointments requiring board confirmation, approval of contracts that fall within the organization’s policy guidelines, dates of future meetings, etc.
Always come prepared. Make sure that all board members read the board reports before the meeting, so that questions or concerns they have may be addressed by the administration ahead of time.
Create a welcoming environment for each meeting. Make everyone who is attending the meeting feel welcome and valued. Personally greet and acknowledge all members of the audience. Take the opportunity to pass along a word of appreciation to any district or staff member present to let them know how much the board appreciates their work.
Have district policies and handbooks readily available. During board meetings, always have a copy of district policies and handbooks at hand in case questions arise.
Stay focused. It is important to stay focused on the agenda in order to effectively and efficiently complete the agenda items. Too often, a board can get off-track if conversations are allowed to begin about personal agenda items or stories. If an item needs additional discussion to continue, tabling it to the next meeting is an option. An effective school board meeting should typically not run past two hours. If it does, there are either too many agenda items and/or discussions that may not be related to true governance. These items should be reviewed for relevance.
Manage discussion items. When items appear on the agenda that require discussion, the board president should ask if there is a motion to limit the discussion to 30 minutes. Such a motion requires two-thirds vote. During this discussion, it is important to prevent repetition by several members, and to look for new speakers on the topic. This prevents one member from controlling the floor.
Encourage equal participation. Discussion items can sometimes be monopolized by one or two speakers. There are several parliamentary procedures that can be used to address this. For example, no one speaker should speak for a second time when there are members who wish to speak for a first time. “Is there anyone who wishes to speak? Sarah, do you have an opinion on this?” Once a person has spoken twice to a motion, then he or she is finished with that motion. This should be established as a standard operating procedure with each new board.
Conduct frequent board assessments. A board should have in place a system to continually monitor, assess and hold each other accountable. The board president should periodically give a quick survey after board meetings to gather insight to the overall effectiveness of the meeting. The survey provides the board with the opportunity to reflect and assess themselves and their conduct as a whole. Based on the data, goals for improvement can be determined. This too, should be a standard operating procedure.
Adhere to board governance. The role of the school board is to:
1) Clarify the district purpose
2) Connect with the community
3) Employ the superintendent
4) Delegate authority
5) Monitor district performance
6) Take responsibility for itself
The board agenda and discussions should reflect on at least one of these areas. It is important for a board to not get caught up into micromanaging other areas of the district that should be left to the administration. Doing so can confuse the role of the board and administration. Often times, the community becomes unclear about whom to voice concerns, which can create confusion or mistrust among stakeholders.
Overall, school governance conducted through effective and efficient monthly meetings is essential to keeping the work of school districts moving forward. Practicing these ten simple “do’s” is a way to accomplish this important work.
BoardSource (2006). “The Consent Agenda: A Tool for Improving Governance,” http://boardsource.org/dl.asp?document_id=484.
Carver, J. (2006). Boards that Make a Difference: A New Design for Leadership in Nonprofit and Public Organizations. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, CA.
Illinois School Board Associations (2011). Coming to Order: A Guide to Successful School Board Meetings.