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March-April, 2009

'Getting up to speed' is the board's job

The question for this issue is answered by Dean Langdon, field services director for IASB's Blackhawk, Central Illinois Valley, Corn Belt and Western divisions.

Question: What can current board members do to provide support for newly elected board members?

Answer: From a philosophical standpoint, it is the responsibility of the entire board to be sure that a new member orientation takes place. The sixth principle in IASB's Foundational Principles of Effective Governance states that the board "takes responsibility for itself," which includes the work it chooses to do and how it chooses to do that work.

The final bullet in Principle Six is: The Board seeks continuity of leadership, even as it experiences turnover in membership. The Board accomplishes this by using written Board policies to guide Board operations, by providing thorough orientation and training for all members, and by nurturing a positive and inviting Board culture.

But from a practical point of view, your board president and superintendent should work together to bring new members "up to speed" so that your governance team can function effectively.

Your board president and district superintendent can provide numerous materials and key information regarding ongoing board issues. Remember, the district's current work won't take a hiatus while new board members get "up to speed" and the goals of the district don't change with every board election. However, new board members will want to make a meaningful contribution right away and orientation is the first step toward helping them to feel included.

In the short term, new board members will want to know the status of important ongoing projects and board level initiatives. It's not unusual for new board members to vote on amended budgets, building projects and negotiated contracts within the first months of board membership. As veteran board members, you will need to provide background knowledge regarding much of this work.

In addition to the details of the most pressing issues, it's important to schedule team building activities with your new board. New board members were more than likely elected because they shared similar values with the community. The new governance team should seek out these new points of view while continuing the work of the district. Your goal is collaboration: bringing all seven members together to create one vision for the district. That vision, then, is communicated to the superintendent through policy and results in direction for the district's administration.

Finally, board governance training should be a priority within the first few months of board membership. Many newly elected board members want to have an impact but may not know the best way to approach the job. School board training provides a valuable opportunity for new board members to learn about their role in governance, share insights with other board members and tap into valuable resources across the state.

IASB offers numerous opportunities for regional workshops and in-district trainings. A new publication, "Orienting New School Board Member on the way to Becoming a High-Performing Board Team," provides suggestions for getting new board members "up to speed" as well as sample orientation agendas. Contact your IASB field services director for more information.

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