September/October 2020

From the Field
IASB Inaugural Book Study

By Lori Grant

Reviewing and discussing The Governance Core: School Boards, Superintendents, and Schools Working Together by Davis Campbell and Michael Fullan


One of my favorite quotes is attributed to the famous Italian artist, Michelangelo, who at age 87 said, “I’m still learning.” 

Learning never ends, and over three weekly sessions this past June, several board members from across the state, ranging from long-time veterans to brand-new trustees, expanded their knowledge by participating in the IASB book study of The Governance Core. Through guided discussions, members shared key takeaways and strategies to apply to their board work.

Written by Davis Campbell, retired executive director of the California School Boards Association, and Michael Fullan, noted for his expertise in educational research and reform, The Governance Core: School Boards, Superintendents, and Schools Working Together gives readers practical, real-world examples of what good governance looks like.

The book focuses on two major ideas: mindsets for efficacy and governing for efficacy. The authors state that “...having a governance mindset means being aware and understanding the impact of every variable that affects the health of your organization.”

The first half of the book explains those variables for both the trustee mindset and superintendent mindset, with a detailed yet practical look at relationships, systems, strategic focus, deep learning, and public manner. The authors share success stories from school districts across the country.

One chapter our participants particularly appreciated focused on welcoming new trustees. The authors give an outline for the first 100 days of new member onboarding for both the sitting board and the new trustee. From that chapter, “There is a saying in governance circles that one new trustee creates an entirely new board. How newly elected or appointed trustees are brought on to the governance team will in many ways determine how that board will function from that point on.”

It speaks to the core of the realities of governance, and the vital importance of the board’s ability to work as one body.

The second half of the book is devoted to the job of governance. It focuses on governing with coherence, the culture of the board, and impactful governance tools. Boards are a blend of personalities and beliefs, and the authors give strategies for boards and superintendents to work jointly, balancing individual core values and the board’s unity of purpose through focusing attention, securing accountability, cultivating collaborative cultures, and deepening learning.

From chapters devoted to strategic action and governance tools, the authors state, “All the strategic planning, community engagement, and professional dialogue mean little if the board does not take action by adopting well-developed, easily understood, measurable strategic goals and success indicators.”

The rich discussion members had around this statement brought forward the important reminder that setting strategic goals is the work of the board. When done in collaboration with the staff and the community, these goals can be a board’s unifying rallying cry.

Finally, the authors outline, in detail, tools to build a board’s capacity to govern, including discussion meetings (work sessions), governance handbooks, board self-evaluations, and continuing education. Many of our boards utilize many of these tools; it is easy to feel accomplished when a new tool is implemented, but one could argue that this moment signifies when the real work begins. 

The Governance Core is a valuable read for school board members, superintendents, and anyone seeking to understand how effective governance works. From some of our members summarizing their takeaways at the conclusion of our book study:

“So many great lessons about galvanizing around a common cause, but I think the biggest lesson I will take is about being intentional about good governance. You’ve got to talk this through with the board and superintendent and not leave it to chance. Every new board member should get a copy of this book.”

– M.K. Prusnick, Schaumburg CCSD 54

“We need to create a coherent, unified board around a shared moral imperative and unity of purpose. We strive to be a unified board not a uniform board.”

– Joanne Osmond, Lake Villa CCSD 41

For the next IASB book study, we’ve selected The Trust Edge by David Horsager for a winter discussion. We hope you will join us.

Lori Grant is a Director of Field Services with the Illinois Association of School Boards.