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September/October 2022

From the Field: Which Type of Goal Setting Works for Your School Board?

By Perry Hill IV

Goal setting stands as an early act in which a governance team (i.e., a school board and superintendent collaborative) should engage. This act and its outcome ensure a unilateral direction for the governance team as it pursues alignment and excellence for the school district.

The governance team — particularly the school board — serves as an initiating entity for any goal-setting session. Coupled with this responsibility, the tasks necessary to derive relevant “ends” outcomes (i.e., core values, mission, vision, goals) involve widening team perspectives to pinpoint varied community standards as well as local education priorities. Such a widening of perspectives entails the school board intentionally and strategically engaging the community through two-way communication.

Some boards may employ engagement options such as surveys, forums, ad hoc committees, and other options outside of the regular board meeting. Many school boards couple these engagement options with the use of a goal-setting session referred to as “inclusive goal setting.”

This involves identifying all community groups and selecting a representative from each group who will be invited to a special board meeting addressing the task of goal setting. At this board meeting, an IASB Field Services Director will facilitate a workshop session that enables the governance team to join each invited representative in detecting community standards and priorities for education in pre-selected district areas.

Regardless of the number of attendees, and inclusive of the governance team, these activities will yield key deliverables befitting the ends outcomes sought by the governance team.

Inclusive goal setting is one of two types of goal-setting sessions available to a governance team/district.

The second goal-setting type available is called “exclusive goal setting.” This session involves a school board opting to initiate goal setting with only governance team members, and perhaps select district personnel, in attendance. This is the only distinction between an exclusive and an inclusive goal-setting session. The session is still facilitated by an IASB Field Services Director, and both session processes and activities are designed to yield ends outcomes, same as the inclusive goal-setting option.

Notably, the school board rationale for an exclusive session versus an inclusive session should not stem from a hope of swifter completion, a belief in simpler execution, or a desire to elude levels of public transparency. After all, goal setting sessions — exclusive and inclusive — must transpire within open school board meetings in full compliance to all Open Meetings Act requirements. The school board rationale for exclusive goal setting versus inclusive goal setting mostly hails from a school board’s determination that ongoing and/or recent engagement communication with all community groups has already equipped the school board with sufficient information to accurately develop district ends without direct public participation in session activities.

Both goal-setting approaches have merit. Both approaches reflect a board acting on an early responsibility of governance. Both approaches take into consideration community standards and priorities. Both approaches demand that the school board weigh community standards and priorities to make decisions beneficial for the district-at-large as well as the general public good.

A school board must weigh which approach best works. Is the best approach inclusive goal setting, which offers community engagement and in-the-moment feedback with the governance team working alongside the community to devise a direction for the district? Is the best approach exclusive goal setting, which involves retrieval/utilization of community feedback by the governance team to devise a district direction with indirect public participation? Each school board must decide its own preferred approach.

Perry Hill IV, Ph.D., is a Field Services Director for the Illinois Association of School Boards for the Egyptian, Illini, Shawnee, and Wabash Valley Divisions.