Cathy Talbert is retiring this summer as IASB’s associate executive director for Field Services and Policy Services.
My first day at IASB in February 1990 was a snow day. I received the telephone call early in the morning that the Lombard office would be closed due to weather. Once I did arrive at the office the next day, it got busy fast and never really stopped.
I had the good fortune to come to the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) at a time when the concept of governance was being explored across the country, based upon the work of John Carver, the author of Boards That Make a Difference: A New Design for Leadership in Nonprofit and Public Organizations, first published in 1990. Carver is the creator of the Carver Policy Governance model for board leadership. The IASB Board of Directors was influenced by Carver’s model and had begun exploring and implementing a new governance structure for its work as a not-for-profit association board. As we moved into the mid-1990s, under the leadership of then-Executive Director Wayne Sampson, the IASB staff also began thinking about the Carver governance model and how it related to IASB’s traditional theories and teaching about school board governance.
I came to IASB with a background as an attorney. The opportunity to immerse myself, along with my colleagues, in research and thinking about effective governance became the perfect beginning to my work, at that time in Policy Services and later in Field Services and board training and development. The leadership and example provided by our Board of Directors and the extensive professional development provided to staff included numerous opportunities for talking, thinking, and learning about governance generally and school board governance specifically. This ultimately led to the staff development of IASB’s Foundational Principles of Effective Governance in 1998 (see page 12).
The Foundational Principles of Effective Governance articulate the board’s role in public education. They are based upon the premise that school boards and school board members serve as volunteer leaders chosen by the community to sit in trust for the community, and that certain fundamental duties arise out of that trustee role. These principles became the philosophy underlying all of IASB’s products and services.
At the time, staff had significant discussion about whether these principles outlined a new governance system or a restatement of IASB’s traditional long-term beliefs. Ultimately, we believed it was a bit of both: The principles were grounded in what IASB had always taught, but they gave us a new frame and a new way to talk about governance. Rather than adopting the Carver model as a model for school board governance, we used what we learned from Carver’s work and the discussions it prompted to enhance our governance work for and with our member school boards. We did not discard our prior work, nor did we replace it with a new, packaged model. We began to incorporate the principles into every aspect of our work.
All of this was significant to the development of our policy services, as the Foundational Principles make it clear that the board governs by and through its written board policy. Improving the support we provided to member boards to develop and maintain good school board policy became a priority. It was no coincidence that PRESS, IASB’s policy and procedure information and updating service, debuted in 1993. This service was and is distinguished from other sources of sample policies in that PRESS sample policies and administrative procedures are drafted considering best practices for effective school board governance as well as legal requirements.
The newly developed Foundational Principles also prompted staff to update and revise the new board member workshop program around the role of the board as set forth in the principles. As time went on into the 21st Century, staff worked to develop specific workshops related to each Foundational Principle. Those workshops led to the creation of LeaderShop, a recognition program designed to encourage school board members to participate in this sequence of board member development courses. The newest workshop in this series, Monitoring District Performance: Saying What We Mean and Doing What We Say, was first offered in January 2018. This workshop helps the board think about and begin to put into place a process for monitoring district performance by monitoring its board policy.
Staff members continue to use the Foundational Principles to inform their work. Ongoing review of the work of the board and evaluation of the products and services IASB provides to support our member boards helps staff to identify areas to provide more or better resources. Over the years, this has led to the development of our publications Orientation: Building the Board Team; The Superintendent Evaluation Process: Strengthening the Board-Superintendent Relationship; and Connecting with the Community: The Purpose and Process of Community Engagement as Part of Effective School Board Governance.
IASB Field Services Directors also provide customized in-district workshops for member boards on these topics. And, there are often Pre-Conference Workshops and panels, and Journal articles exploring these issues and this work.
None of this work would have been possible without the leadership and support of IASB’s Board of Directors. The vision of IASB is “excellence in local school board governance in support of quality public education.” That, essentially, has been the primary and consistent purpose of IASB for over 100 years. IASB serves school boards and school board members to support and assist them in governing their local districts well and to the benefit of their communities and their children.
This work also requires Association leadership that believes in and provides ongoing professional development for board and staff. IASB practices what it preaches — a commitment to continuous learning and improvement.
And, last but not least, this work could not have been done without the support and participation of our member school boards. Over the years, our members have been integral to staff identification of best practices for effective school board governance. Our members have shown us what works and what doesn’t. Our principles and what we teach in our training develops, in many ways, from what we have learned from our members. It is a collective wisdom that continues to grow and inform our work and identification of best practices.
As I leave IASB, I am very grateful for this opportunity to thank the Association leadership and members who set the direction, led by example, supported the Association services and used its resources, and provided indispensable feedback. This has provided for me personally, and for all of our staff, the opportunity to engage in good and meaningful work.
Cathy Talbert will be leaving IASB for new adventures in sunny California, where the only snow will be found on a drive into the mountains if she starts to miss her many IASB miles on the road during Illinois winters.
Resources for this article can be found at blog.iasb.com/p/journal-resources.html.