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July/August 2021

Superintendent Advisory Committees Guide Districts through Pandemic

By Paul O’Malley
 
School districts are continually looking for opportunities to bring together stakeholders around a specific initiative and collaborate with knowledgeable individuals within their communities. Com­munity members, parents, partner organizations, and others bring specialized skills and talents from their personal and professional experiences to the betterment of the district. A Superintendent Advisory Committee can act as the vehicle to bring the right people around the table to discuss topics, drive insights, and provide useful feed­back.
 
As the backbone of our commu­nities, schools need to engage the community, parents, faculty and staff, and external partners in a col­laborative process for the best inter­est of moving the school district forward in a positive light. Super­intendent Advisory Committees facilitate the connection between the community and the school.
 
What is a Superintendent Advisory Committee?
These advisory committees are outside the established committees of the Board of Education, district leadership teams, and other gov­ernance or negotiation commit­tees. A Superintendent Advisory Committee is a non-authoritative, non-binding board of education committee that is formed for a pre­determined amount of time for a specific purpose to advise the super­intendent on certain scenarios.
 
The purpose of the committee should be clearly defined from the beginning to make sure it accomplishes the tasks and the appropriate skill sets are included in the membership. This also provides the community with the informa­tion necessary to encourage partic­ipation based upon availability and subject-matter expertise.
 
The initiation of a Superinten­dent Advisory Committee should include sharing with district stake­holders, a request for applications for consideration to serve on the committee, and an appropriate compilation of members to ensure representation of the interests of the committee and stakeholders.
 
Once the committee is formed, a clearly defined agenda should be developed for each meeting to ensure that conversation and feed­back are aligned with the overall purpose of the committee. It is important to allow conversations to occur, while remaining within the scope of the advisory committee’s purpose to achieve a positive out­come. Detailed notes and minutes should be taken and posted for the larger community to stay informed on progress being made.
 
A Superintendent Advisory Committee in Action
By forming a pandemic plan­ning team consisting of appropriate district personnel and community members, the Pandemic Awareness Committee (PAC) was an advisory committee to the Butler SD 53 superintendent in response to Pol­icy 4:180 Pandemic Preparedness; Management; and Recovery. While the PAC had no decision-making function, it did identify priorities and oversaw the development and imple­mentation of a comprehensive pan­demic school action plan. The PAC offered valuable and in-depth con­versation on specific local situations, including identifying emerging local issues.
 
To attract members to serve on this advisory committee, the district sent out text message alerts and email announcements to parents and guardians within the school district. To gather broader commu­nity involvement, the district issued a press release and promoted the opportunity through social media channels. The community respond­ed to the needs of the school district, and after a review of applications, a comprehensive membership list was established.
 
Members of the committee included representation from the District 53 buildings and grounds department, school nurse profes­sionals, Oak Brook Education Association members, mental health experts, public health experts, doc­tors and medical professionals, and a daycare operator. The diverse insight and knowledge of the PAC members assisted the district in continuing to respond to the current pandemic.
 
The PAC met throughout the 2020-2021 school year as Butler SD 53 remained fully open for in-person learning, all year, for five full days per week. Topics on the agenda for PAC meetings included monitoring and compliance reporting of the various COVID-19 guidelines; COVID-19 testing and vaccination implemen­tation; emotional well-being of students, staff, and families; holiday travel and safety considerations; and reopening for the 2021-2022 school year
 
The firsthand experience of these individuals was incredibly import­ant to the discussions pertaining to the physical and emotional health and safety of the district amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the most challenging academic year for most in uncharted territory.
 
A Superintendent Advisory Committee serves a function to engage community members and stakeholders, and to advise the super­intendent on a specific theme, task, or initiative. The Superintendent Advisory Committee model can be implemented beneficially for hiring process for key district personnel positions, academic or athletic ini­tiatives, technology or infrastructure investments, and other initiatives that would benefit from a diverse, outside perspective.

Paul O’Malley, Ed.D., is Superintendent of Butler School District 53 in Oak Brook