Cathy Talbert is IASB associate executive director for field services and policy services.
The school board governs using written policies. The Illinois state legislature has empowered school boards to adopt policies that have the force and effect of law.
Written policies ensure legal compliance, establish board processes, articulate district ends (vision, mission, and goals), delegate authority, and define operating limits. Board policies provide the basis for monitoring progress toward district ends.
It is through policy that the board establishes and communicates its priorities, expectations, and programs. The board policy manual can serve an important informational purpose. It provides direction (what the board wants) and commitment (what the board promises) to staff, students, parents, and community members. The board also adopts policies to comply with state or federal mandates.
The policy-making role of the school board includes five stages:
- Monitoring; and
These stages form a cycle of ongoing work for the school board. All of these stages are important (see sidebar, page 19) but here, we focusing on reviewing and monitoring.
IASB’s Foundational Principles of Effective Governance provides that the school board sits in trust for the community and that arising out of that trustee role are certain fundamental responsibilities. Principle 5 provides that “The board monitors performance.”
Here is how IASB defines that principle:
The board constantly monitors progress toward district ends and compliance with written board policies using data as the basis for assessment.
- A school board that pursues its ends through the delegation of authority has a moral obligation to itself and the community to determine whether that authority is being used as intended.
- Unless the board is clear about what it wants, there is no valid way to measure progress and compliance.
- A distinction should be made between monitoring data (used by the board for accountability) and management data (used by the staff for operations).
- The constructive use of data is a skill that must be learned. The board should have some understanding of data, but will typically require guidance from the staff.
The reviewing and monitoring work of the board is addressed in PRESS sample policy 2:240, Board Policy Development and in many Illinois local school board policy manuals this way:
“Board Policy Review and Monitoring
The Board will periodically review its policies for relevancy, monitor its policies for effectiveness, and consider whether any modifications are required. The Board may use an annual policy review and monitoring calendar.”
You may want to check your board policy manual to see what your board has said about this work. Also, consider how your board currently puts your policy into practice.
Policy review generally asks these questions:
- Is this policy still relevant?
- Is this still the direction we want?
- Is this still what we want to say?
Policy monitoring generally asks these questions,
- Is this policy having the effect we intended?
- Are we getting the results we want?
- Is our direction being put into district practice?
For a deeper conversation, the board may develop additional questions specific to the content in each section of the policy manual.
In order to answer these reviewing and monitoring questions, the board will need to receive monitoring data and information from the superintendent. Some of this information may be in the form of reports the board already receives at various times throughout the year; some may be found in the district’s written administrative procedures; and some may need to be developed for this new work.
Administrative procedures, unlike board policies, are developed by the superintendent, administrators, and/or other district staff members to guide implementation of board policies. Administrative procedures are not adopted by the school board. This allows the superintendent and staff the flexibility they need to keep the procedures current. Administrative procedures do not require formal board adoption and are not included in a board policy manual.
A policy reviewing and monitoring calendar will assist the board and superintendent to ensure that this work becomes a regular and ongoing part of the board’s work. The board can consider an annual or multi-year calendar. Whatever the timeline, the calendar can allow the board to integrate its review and monitoring work with all of its other work by considering certain policy topics at certain times of the year, for example: planning and budgeting processes, superintendent evaluation, board self-evaluation, and student handbook approval. Sample calendars are available on IASB’s Members Only website (go to iasb.com and click My Account to log in).
Policy reviewing and monitoring work is best done at a special board meeting or a committee of the whole meeting, rather than a regular board meeting. This ensures the board will have adequate time for a full conversation. However, if your board only meets once a month and chooses to add the reviewing and monitoring work to the agenda for the regular monthly business meeting, to be successful you will need to block sufficient time to do the scheduled work.
Policy work is best done by the entire board and superintendent governance team, rather than by a board policy committee comprised of less than full board participation. Policy making is a critical function of the full board. However, if your board prefers to assign some pre-work to a committee, this is a local board decision. To be successful in this work and avoid duplication of efforts, the board will need to be clear about the charge to the committee and the role of the full board.
During the first cycle of this work, the board and superintendent should begin by discussing expectations for the ongoing process and for each section of the manual, such as:
- What questions will we ask for each section of the manual?
- What information do we need from the superintendent to be able to answer the monitoring and review questions? What information do we already receive? What additional information do we need? Are we balancing the need for information with the resources it will take to provide that information?
- How far in advance of our meeting do we need this information?
- Do we have an expectation that board members do pre-work and come prepared to begin discussion?
The answers to these questions will determine the next cycles of the work.
Policy review and monitoring are an integral part of seeking continuous improvement for the board and district. These conversations are not intended to point fingers or to find fault or wrongdoing; rather they are intended to ensure that board policy direction is aligned with district procedures and practices, and to provide the opportunity for course correction where needed. Sometimes board and superintendent conversations may be all that are needed to clarify the board’s intent and provide for future alignment. At other times, the board may want to revise and update its written policy to reflect a new direction, or to more clearly state its current policy.
In addition, policy review and monitoring should be an integral part of the superintendent evaluation process. These conversations can provide ongoing feedback to the superintendent about how he or she is meeting the board’s expectations.
The other stages: development, updating, communicating
In addition to the monitoring and reviewing stages outlines above, IASB offers significant resources to support the board in the development, updating, and communicating stages of the policy-making role. Through policy manual customization services, an IASB policy consultant works with the board and superintendent governance team to develop a new policy manual based upon the IASB Policy Reference Manual and incorporating the district’s current policy and practices. PRESS, IASB’s policy and procedure information and updating service, and PRESS Plus, the Association’s full-maintenance policy updating service, support the board as it develops and updates its board policy. School Board Policies Online, a web-service available from IASB, assists school boards to communicate board policy by publishing local school board policy manuals using all the same features used for publishing PRESS online.