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Select Panel Reports

As it has for the past several years, IASB has posted selected reports that make up the Panel Reports of the Joint Annual Conference. The aim is to make some of the most vital information presented at the conference available to a wider audience of school board members and administrators.

With more than 100 panel sessions scheduled at the conference each year, no individual can hope to attend all of them. In navigating this document, you will be able to click on any of the panel titles to read the contents of the report on that particular session or you can simply scroll down to read all of the reports.

Among the reporters who drafted these session summaries were conference "interns," comprised of education administration students from several Illinois university graduate programs. Each intern was assigned to cover a panel selected for its lasting value to school leaders. Other reports have been prepared by members of the IASB communications staff.

The panels chosen were among those presented as part of the Joint Annual Conference of the Illinois Association of School Boards, Illinois Association of School Administrators, and Illinois Association of School Business Officials. The annual conference is the state's largest annual meeting of public school leaders. It features speakers, panel presentations, exhibits and informal discussions about a wide array of school leadership topics. The 2014 conference was held Nov. 21-23 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, Sheraton Chicago Towers and Hotel, and the Swissotel, and attracted more than 10,000 school board members, administrators, exhibitors, school attorneys, and guests.

Social Media and School Districts

Cultivating the Board/Superintendent Relationship

Aspiring Superintendents

Superintendent Evaluations: It’s a Team Effort

Communication Styles and Decision Making

If You Build It … Enhancing Learning Environments for 21st Century Learners

Board Presidents Roundtable

Turning the Corner from the 2014 Elections

Board Member-Parent Hat

Superintendent Employment Contracts - Highlights of an Administrator Contract: Good, Bad and Ugly of Buyout Clauses

Executive Searches Process

Leadership and Learning: Facilitated by APPLE Inc.

A Board Member’s Guide to the Illinois Report Card

Social Media and School Districts

Faith Behr, School Communications Consultant, Behr Communications, Naperville;
Dayna Brown, Director of Communications and Community Relations, McLean County Unit District 5;
Bill Clow, Director of Community Outreach,   Harvard C.U. District 5;
Cathy Kedjidjian, Coordinator of Communications and Community Relations, Deerfield District 109;
Stephanie Stuart, Community Relations Coordinator, Champaign C.U. District 4

Reporter: Gary Adkins, Director of Communications, IASB

The pros and cons of school district use of social media were discussed by an expert panel of professional school communicators. All agreed that tools such as Facebook and Twitter are extremely valuable in keeping school districts in touch with their communities and gathering and sharing vital information.

If school communicators are looking to start up their use of social media, Kedjidjian suggested scheduling posts, at least to begin with, at regular times and days each week. She said most people are on Facebook but more community leaders may be on Twitter.

“ Hootsuite [] is a good place to start your Twitter use,” Kedjidjian suggested. She also advised scheduling a time to watch postings and tweets and to stay in touch with what is being discussed.

The panelists said the downside of social media use is it does not reach everybody, so many people won’t get the information schools send out electronically. Schools still need to use lots of paper to send home their messages. “Seventy percent of our families have Internet access,” Stuart said.

“I encourage you to conduct a survey to find out the percentage of parents with Web access,” Bill Clow added.

Panelists agreed that schools’ big concern initially may be whether they can control their social media presence, but no one recalled encountering any serious difficulties in this regard. “We tweet from the district and we tweet from teachers and staff and have seen not one instance of inappropriate comments,” Kedjidjian stated. But she suggested strong filtering anyway, and others urged the adoption of some rules of use for the school district.

Stuart said her district looked at what other school districts were doing in terms of setting rules for social media use, and eventually adopted some of those ideas. “If you are a staff member, you shouldn’t friend a student, for example,” she said, and other panelists agreed.

“Be open to change in making your rules of use,” Behr added.

As for concerns about possible negative comments being targeted at schools through social media sites, Kedjidjian said this raises an important point: “Those communications are happening, so make it public and own your own social media message.”

“Don’t let it become a one-way communications,” added Clow.

Panelists shared several other caveats, as well, including:

  • “Comments of board members can get picked up and turned into something else.”
  • “Board members shouldn’t be using social media to talk about the district.”
  • “You need to be transparent about who is responding from the district” to any discussion the district participates in on social media.

Cultivating the Board/Superintendent Relationship

Patrick Rice, IASB Field Services Director
Andrea Evers, Superintendent Cairo SD #1
Kevin Latoz, Board President, Georgetown-Ridge Farm CUSD #4
Artie McBride, Board President, Cairo SD #1
Jean Neal, Superintendent, Georgetown-Ridge Farm CUSD #4

Reporter: Chris Becker, Associate Principal, Highland High School, Highland CUSD#5

Patrick Rice, field services director for IASB, opened the panel discussion by identifying the session objective which dealt with the importance of understanding the superintendent and board relationship, and the importance of effective public governance. The board and superintendent must work together in a district, as failure to do so could result in a breakdown of the relationship which leads to turmoil for the district.

Rice continued to share the importance of effective governance highlighting the IASB principles, which included:1) clarifying the district’s purpose 2) connecting with the community 3) employing the superintendent 4) delegating authority 5) monitoring district performance 6) holding itself accountable. Good governance elements are foundational pieces to successful leadership within a district and should be followed to ensure success.   Rice continued to add that it is vital that good governance elements are clearly defined up front so that an incoming superintendent or board member is aware of the district’s expectations.

The primary target of the panel discussion focused on IASB governance principles 3 and 6, related to employing the superintendent and the board holding itself accountable.   Components of effective board and superintendent relationships were presented, which included: 1) clear understanding of roles and duties 2) superintendent hiring process 3) mutual trust and quality communication 4) board process agreements 5) superintendent and board evaluations 6) new member board orientation. Rice commented that it takes some time to establish these elements within a district, and trust is very important on both sides. Furthermore, he shared that the board and superintendent relationship can be compared to a marriage—that there are ups and downs that occur throughout. Once the honeymoon period wears off, the trust and communication factors become more important than ever.

The next portion of the panel provided opportunity for the speakers to comment on specifics related to board of education and superintendent relationships. Panelists, which included superintendents and boards presidents from school districts in Cairo SD #1 and Georgetown-Ridge Farm CUSD #4, provided detailed accounts of experiences in their respective districts. Georgetown-Ridge Superintendent Neal shared that establishing a clear understanding of roles and duties was important, and that parameters should be established to allow the district to run more efficiently. Furthermore, Neal and Board President Latoz shared the importance of getting a variety of stakeholders involved during the process of assigning roles and duties. Neal also shared that if rules and procedures are not defined, there could be consistent turnover in the superintendent position.

Superintendent Evers and Board President McBride from Cairo SD #1 shared information on establishing trust and quality communication between the board and the superintendent.   Evers commented that during the interview process the board and superintendent should not force a fit for the position. Both parties should mutually want to work for each other and there should be no surprises. Additionally, the board and superintendent should find creative ways to connect with each other that go beyond board meetings. Some examples might include board member retreats, visiting schools, attending ball games, concerts, and other athletic or extracurricular events.

The panel closed with all members taking questions from audience members regarding various scenarios. One topic of interest dealt with importance of utilizing the proper chain of command as a board member. If a situation occurred with a classroom teacher, the panel thought that if it was a minor issue, the board member should contact the teacher directly and not to the superintendent. If the issue was larger in scope, the board member could contact the principal or perhaps the superintendent if needed. Following chain of command was an important element for all members.

The panel was a great opportunity for perspective superintendents and board members to understand the importance of establishing a positive relationship from the beginning.

Aspiring Superintendents

Donna Johnson, Director, Executive Searches, Illinois Association of School Boards, Lombard;
Thomas F. Leahy, Consultant, Executive Searches, Illinois Association of School Boards, Springfield;
Richard J. Voltz, Associate Director, Professional Development and Induction/Mentoring Programs, Illinois Association of School Administrators, Springfield

Reporter: Chris Becker, Associate Principal, Highland High School, Highland CUSD#5

The Aspiring Superintendents session was held bright and early on Sunday, November 23 rd with Rich Voltz, Tom Leahy, and Donna Johnson leading the way by providing important information on what it takes to be a new superintendent in Illinois, how to be prepared to interview and accept a position, and what to expect when on the job.   The audience was made up of approximately 10 perspective superintendents who started by introducing themselves and stating why they were attending this particular session.

Johnson and Leahy provided a breakdown of the superintendent search process based on the IASB approach.   Most schools look to hire internal candidates first, but tend to look at both internal and external candidates when hiring a superintendent.   Often times a targeted brochure is created by a district which outlines the requirements needed for a specific position.   A board of education may take as long as 4-5 months to go through the interview process to select a few candidates who may end up as finalists.   Traditionally, 4-6 candidates may be moved forward to the board of education as finalist candidates.

Johnson made specific note that it is important to make sure that the board and the superintendent are a good match for each other, and to be very honest and forthright during the interview process.   Failure to follow this approach may create a false match that ends up being a bad situation for both parties.   It is much better to be honest during the interview so the board knows exactly what kind of person they are hiring.   Honest answers will show the type of superintendent that the district is getting.

Leahy commented on the importance of having the necessary paperwork and requirements taken care of before the interview takes place.   It was also stressed to secure reference letters from direct supervisors for each position within a district.   Leahy states the importance of sending reference letters within the last 3-5 years.

In regards to completing a proper resume, the candidate should utilize Arial 11 font, and list all positions and years held in each district they have served in.   Resumes can be longer in length if they provide a clear picture of the candidate, and again, should account for all years of service and reflect each job change by year.

Background checks have become common practice with superintendent searches, so a candidate should have a clean record.   A new superintendent should expect the possibility of a residency requirement and should note that if this is listed in the posting as a requirement, it must be followed.   Finally, Leahy shared that it is important for the candidate to research the perspective district and community, and that the interview with the board and superintendent is a two way street.   He or she must ask good questions to become familiar with the district and community.

Dr. Voltz from IASA completed the panel discussion by sharing the importance of a candidate being honest and open, and to share exactly who they are with the board.   Today’s superintendent needs to be an instructional leader who has the ability to make tough decisions.   It is very important that a perspective candidate have a digital footprint that is clean.   Items posted on social media should not be offensive in any way or portray the candidate in a negative light.

Voltz shared the importance for a perspective superintendent to talk with family prior to going on an interview about moving to a new community.   These conversations should happen prior to the interview taking place so there are no hesitations.   A candidate should be prepared to conduct a site visit of the schools and district, and also be prepared to visit the community itself.

When interviewing, a candidate should dress for success and be sure to wear something extremely professional.   When interviewing, the candidate should display good posture and be serious about the position.   Be careful when utilizing humor as it could be taken the wrong way.   Be sure to understand what the salary range is and ask questions of the board so that you know what you are getting into.   Finally, it is very important for the candidate to be true to themselves and comfortable with whom they are, and not sell your soul when interviewing for a position.

Following these steps will allow a perspective candidate the opportunity to prepare, interview, and potentially accept a position as a new superintendent.

Superintendent Evaluations: It’s a Team Effort

Reatha Owens, IASB Field Service Director
Laura Martinez, IASB Field Service Director

Reporter: Sara Dail, Principal, Sterling Public Schools, CUSD *5

Reatha Owens described the superintendent evaluation as a process. The process has been revised over the last year and she will be sharing the updated version. The objectives of the session are to define the purpose of superintendent evaluation and the role of the board in this process. She reviewed the foundational principles of effective governance:

1-Clarifies district purpose

2-Connects with the community

3-Employs a superintendent

4-Delegates authority

5-Monitors district performance

6-Takes responsibility for itself

The session focuses mainly on principle 3 and the employment of the superintendent, although monitoring the district performance and taking responsibility for itself are also related.

Owens mentioned that evaluating a superintendent might be the most important job a school board performs. She mentioned this task might be difficult due to the time and energy it takes to complete. It can trigger conflict, be uncomfortable to evaluate a professional educator and some boards may not know where to begin. It is essential the districts tailor their evaluation instrument to meet their needs.

The Illinois School Code (105 ILCS 5) states that school boards will evaluate their superintendents. Additional reasons include accountability, a strong board-superintendent relationship, identifying superintendent professional development needs and contractual/compensation considerations.

Owens also asked the audience what is meant when the school board speaks with “one clear voice.” Participants included descriptors such as sending one message, coming to consensus, having unity when moving forward, and communicating your support for decisions when a consensus is made, regardless if the consensus shares your thoughts.

Laura Martinez restated there is no one method to evaluate a superintendent. She stressed the importance of the board participating in their own self-assessment before the evaluation of the superintendent. Best practices suggest this is done before the formal superintendent evaluation.

Martinez reviewed documents that are essential during the process and the include, but are not limited to, the superintendent’s contract, job description, the district’s vision and mission statements, school board policies, school district strategic plans and/or professional standards.

The panelists discussed a sample calendar of activities for the superintendent evaluations, which included, but are not limited to:


  • Board and Supt. agree on district goals
  • Superintendent creates goals which support district goals, including indicators of success.
  • Board approves these goals.
  • Allocate budget resources to support district goals
  • Board self-evaluation
  • Monitor goal progress
  • Supt. provides board with self-assessment on performance of each goal.
  • Individual board members complete evaluation forms (president collects)
  • Board meets to discuss and come to consensus regarding supt. performance.
  • Board president meets with Supt.   to present final evaluation.
  • Entire board meets with Supt. so he or she can hear from all points of view.
  • A written summary of the evaluation is given to Supt. and a copy retained by the board in a confidential Supt. personnel file.
  • Decisions regarding the Supt. compensation and benefits and contract renewal may be considered.
  • If the evaluation form or process needs to be modified, do so at this time.


Each district should start with a board self-evaluation, followed by an evaluation of their superintendent. The process should be refined to meet the needs of the individual school district. Success depends on teamwork, self-assessment and refinement as a positive method to achieve success.

Communication Styles and Decision Making

Mark Altmayer, Chief Financial Officer, Consolidated SD 158
John Burkey, Superintendent, Consolidated SD 158
Don Drzal, President, Consolidated SD 158
Kim Skaja, Secretary, Consolidated SD 158
Larry Dirks, Director, Field Services, IASB

Reporter: Sara Dail, Principal, Sterling Public Schools, CUSD *5

The main objective of the session was to help the participants understand the relationship of individual styles of communication (and behavior) and good group decision-making. The panel began by discussing a few assumptions, which involved communication styles largely relating to personality styles and decision-making involves a group of individuals, such as a school board.   The third assumption revolved around decisions made with some type of good governance framework

(Clarify purpose, connect with community, hire superintendent, delegate authority, monitor performance, and take responsibility for effectiveness). Fourth, both nature and nurture matter. Your type is inborn but can change as you grow. Fifth, communication is also more than just words. It involves body language, words, tone and inflections. Sixth, there is no right or wrong communication style. We live in a civil society and everyone’s opinion counts as long as it isn’t infringing on another.

Larry Dirks explained that the accurate term we are going to be talking about an individual’s psychological type, not personality type. He also summarized a quote from Carl Gustav Jung, a Swiss psychologist when he said the difference between people are not just random, rather they are form patterns-types. In the 1940’s, two ladies, Katharine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, a mother and daughter, were interested in Carl Jung’s work and developed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Mr. Dirks explained that this helps groups, today, to operate at the board table. It reports key tendencies, preferences and characteristics of individuals and therefore can help groups of people get to know one another and work together.

Karl Jung said every animate object does two things. They take in information and make decisions based on that information. People take in information and make decisions on facts or how they feel about things. Everyone gets his or her energy, whether introverted or extroverted (being around people or spending time alone reflecting). Everyone also has a living preference, either a perceiver or a judger.

Larry Dirks described the following aspects of Myers-Briggs.

Extroverting Introverting
Energized by other people Energized by inner resources
Express thoughts/feelings freely Keeps thoughts and feelings private
Needs relationships Needs privacy
Gets Information
Sensing Intuiting
Operates in the here and now Sees possibilities, creative
Likes details and facts Prefers theory and facts
Making Decisions
Thinking Feeling
Takes themselves out of the situation Puts themselves in the situations
Need for fairness Has difficulty saying no
Living Preference
Judging Perceiving
Likes to make a plan and follow it Likes to adapt and change
Wants structure Doesn’t like to be limited

When you put all four pieces together, there are strengths and areas of growth for each type. Mr. Dirks explained that there are “16 rooms” in this house and you can live out of type but one of these types is your home. One of these is where you are most comfortable but you can live in any one of them in certain situations. For examples, extraverts do need time alone as well, but they always return to needing others.

When generalizing the MBTI, The ST group is tough minded, pragmatic and analytical. The SF is practical, warm and friendly. NF tends to be innovative, warm and insightful and NT innovative, logical and analytical. Larry Dirks warned that although you can generalize, an ESTP could be very different from an ISTP. He also mentioned that when you take the instrument, you have to be honest in order to get the best results. You have to answer the question related to how you are, not how you want to be.

The Consolidated School District #158 received the 2014 School Board Recognition Award. John Burkey, the Superintendent, explained that 9 years ago, his board was not very effective and understanding personality types has made them stronger today. Kim Skaja explained that in the past the board members did not try to understand one another and only tried to prove their perspective was right. Today they used their psychological type to help understand where the other board member is coming from. She said you do not have to approve or agree with one another but you can work together to be productive as a team. Don Drzal also explained how humility and respect plays a role in becoming a higher functioning board. He showed their student achievement improvements, ADA improvements and attributes this to their teamwork. For example, Their ACT composite score has increased from 20 in 1999 to 23 in 2014.

The goal was not only to find out which Myer-Briggs type each individual fell into it, it was more discussing how each type could work together. The panel gave examples of how their types complimented one another. Mark Altmayer mentioned he has strengths and discussed a few of them. He also shared some areas where he can be excessive and needs his teammate’s strengths to help him move forward. He also described how the Myers-Briggs has changed the way he approaches John, Burkey, the Superintendent, after knowing his psychological type. In summary, they mentioned that because they are comfortable with whom they are, they are able to have those tough discussions and walk away from the table with a continued strong relationship. You have to respect other types and you have to be humble enough to recognize differences.

If You Build It … Enhancing Learning Environments for 21st Century Learners

Dr. Kerry L. Cox, Superintendent;
Jan Jungk, retired District Media Specialist, Carrollton Community Unit District 1
Mary Kash, District Media Specialist, Carrollton Community Unit District 1
Mike Scott, Chemistry/Physics teacher, Carrollton Community Unit District 1
Pat Dugas, Math and STEM teacher, Carrollton Community Unit District 1
Christie Joehl, Agriculture teacher (via video); Carrollton Community Unit District 1

Moderator: Rodney Reif, Board President, Carrollton Community Unit District 1.

Reporter: Theresa Kelly Gegen, IASB

Representatives from Carrollton Community School District 1 presented a series of initiatives for engaging students, enhancing learning environments and meeting the needs of the 21st century learners.   School board president Rodney Reif opened the panel by introducing the presenters from Carrollton, which serves a rural farming community in Greene County.

Superintendent Kerry Cox began the discussion by explaining that the district initiatives include “four Cs” necessary for 21st Century learning: curriculum, culture, collaboration and creativity. To that, Carrollton “added the two other Cs: career orientation and citizenship.”

One initiative centered on enhancing the learning environment of the high school library. In today’s “unquiet” times, expectations for learning spaces are different from when the Carrollton building was built 50 years ago. Library/media specialists Jan Jungk and Mary Kash described the school’s decision to “repurpose, renovate and rejuvenate” the outdated space. With the goal of creating a useful space and bringing students back to the library, the district created an Internet café styled learning center. Starting with the planning stage, Jungk presented this to students as their project. “It didn’t happen in a day and that’s probably good,” Jungk said. “Sharing the plan with each classroom gave the students ownership of the project.”

Accomplished over several months, the project included volunteer labor, repurposing and updating existing furnishings, using local vendors and obtaining donations from the community. Jungk called the project a combination of “Paint, plaster, personnel, patience, persistence and perspiration.”

“The result is a comfortable place for learning,” said Kash. “The students are using it for collaborative learning.”

A second element of Carrollton’s initiative was the renovation of the school’s non-functioning greenhouse – known as an “eyesore” before the project began. Starting with a $10,000 grant from Monsanto and led by Carrollton agriculture teacher Christie Joehl, the project turned an unusable space into a thriving learning lab. A video presentation about the project featured agriculture-mechanical students, whose work on the greenhouse was part of their curriculum.

“The students gained an appreciation for what a lack of care can do to a facility,” Joehl said. “They brought much of their classroom learning into practice and took pride in their work.”

Other Carrollton high school classes – math, science, technology and business – joined the collaborative effort, working together to plan the space, heat the greenhouse and plan the building’s uses. When the project was complete, students developed a business growing and selling plants for customers in the community.

Cox added that at Carrollton, they’ve incorporated agriculture to the STEM curriculum, calling it STEAM and making connections across the disciplines. Cox noted that in addition to the Monsanto grant, the greenhouse project was aided by community contributions and volunteer efforts.

A third phase of Carrollton’s effort to enhance learning environments was presented and demonstrated by teachers Pat Dugas and Mike Scott, who work to develop “21st century innovators in a 20th century building.” The district-wide initiative vision states that every Carrollton graduate will have a “firm grounding in the application of the engineering design process,” and will “Possess mature critical logic and problem-solving skills learned through applying engineering design principles repeatedly over K-12 curriculum.”

To develop curriculum initiatives, technology and infrastructure, teachers at Carrollton schools use Professional Learning Communities ( PLCs) to build interdisciplinary units and maximize the resources available at the school. Among the interdisciplinary units: a projectile launcher project, which combined elements from English, Math and Science. Audience participants joined Dugas and Scott to demonstrate the student-built marshmallow launchers.

Scott described using a flipped classroom model to develop more active learners. Teachers prepare videos for skills instruction, which students view at home. Classroom time is then filled with student-led discussion, skills practice and open-ended exploration.

Carrollton developed district-wide initiatives for new classes, a Family STEM Night and STEM Summer Camp, and a Robotics Club and inquiry-based learning projects.

One such project was the Carrollton Space Agency (CASA) effort undertaken through the Introduction to Engineering class, taught by Dugas. A captivating video detailed the project. After research, planning and securing funds, students successfully deployed and recovered a weather balloon that reached an altitude of 60,000 feet, carrying video and data-collecting equipment on a ten-minute flight.

In “If You Build It … Enhancing Learning Environments for 21st Century Learners,” representatives from Carrollton schools recommended collaboration with students and community, developing connections for students, teachers and technology, creating interdisciplinary modes of learning, and maximizing existing resources.

Note: Videos of the greenhouse and CASA projects can be viewed here:

Board Presidents Roundtable

Presenter:   Barb Toney, Director, Field Services, IASB Lombard

Reporter: Theresa Kelly Gegen, Director-Editorial Services; Editor-Illinois School Board Journal, IASB

Participants in the Board Presidents Roundtable gathered to share experiences and frustrations, ask questions and gain insights for issues unique to school board presidents.   Barb Toney, IASB director of Field Services, opened the session with introductions around the room. Field service directors Larry Dirks and Laura Martinez were present to assist. Many of the approximately 40 participants mentioned that they were present because attendance at previous presidential sessions was the “most valuable and helpful experience” at the Joint Annual Conference.

Toney emphasized that the session would center on issues unique to the role of board president, calling presidents “first in a line of equals.” To structure the roundtable discussions, Toney created a flipchart to identify possible topics, using suggestions from participants:

  • How to contain other board members
  • Problem board members
  • Non-participating board members
  • Parliamentary procedure
  • Managing public comments
  • Getting people involved
  • Presidential role expands (counselor to superintendent)
  • Establishing boundaries in superintendent/president relationships
  • Balancing board work with personal and home life
  • How to manage a board with the info that only the president has, what and when to share

Roundtable discussions featured conversations among board presidents and vice presidents struggling to overcome acrimony between board members or maintain an efficiently-working board, as well as input from school board presidents whose boards had survived similar challenges and are now thriving. Suggestions – some of which had already been attempted but unproductive due to non-participation   – included frequently reviewing the board’s mission statement and IASB School Board Governance Basics, conducting a board self-evaluation, observing meetings of well-run boards (school and other) and seeking to enhance both board and community involvement through development of a strategic plan.

Determining “what to share and when” was a topic at one roundtable. School board presidents encouraged each other to work with their superintendents regarding such matters and to be cautious, noting that some issues resolve without being brought before the board.

Another issue discussed was concerns about unstructured and unproductive closed sessions. “The nature of the open session keeps us disciplined,” said one participant. “Closed is a different story.” One board member offered that his board structured meetings with a one-hour closed session, then the open session (which due to public participation, the board is obligated to start on schedule), and then resumption of the closed session when necessary. With that meeting structure, the board was likely to finish closed session work the allotted hour.

Toney offered reminders of IASB assistance to presidents, including the community engagement program and school board president workshops that will take place after the upcoming elections.

Turning the Corner from the 2014 Elections

Governor Jim Edgar; former Illinois governor
James Nowlan; author, former state representative and senior fellow at the Institute of Government Public Affairs at the University of Illinois
Dick Simpson; author and professor at University of Illinois Chicago

Moderator: Ben Schwarm; Deputy Executive Director, IASB

Reporter: Heath Hendren, Assistant Director-Communications, IASB

With the election over and outcomes decided, this panel was designed to look at the future direction of state and federal policy. Budget, tax and education policy were all discussed by the three long-time Illinois political experts, as audience members were able to get a glimpse of an inside perspective of what may be to come for the state of Illinois.

Each of the three panelists presented their perspectives on what the residents of Illinois could come to expect from their government over the coming years.   While all expect to see changes due to a new chief executive, all agreed that the same problem issues of the past will continue to be the real challenge when moving forward.

First to speak was former Governor Jim Edgar, who started by saying that the recent elections results shouldn’t be looked at a surprise if you take into account the history of elections both nationally and in Illinois. Off year elections during a second presidential term normally do not favor the party in control. And with regards to Illinois, social moderates who are fiscally conservative have done well in this state, helping to verify why governor-elect Bruce Rauner was able to defeat Governor Pat Quinn.

Edgar went on to say that having both political parties (a republican as governor and democrats controlling the Illinois House and Senate) with a seat at the table is better for the state. He suggested that bi-partisan government functions better because both parties are required to provide tough votes on important issues. “Compromise creates better public policy,” said Edgar.

Speaking to the problems facing Illinois, he said that the budget must be the primary focus.   “The budget is going to come unglued soon,” he reiterated.   “You can’t deal with the other issues until you deal with the budget.”

Edgar suggested that everyone is going to feel some of the budget pain because both spending cuts and additional revenue are going to be needed to remedy the fiscal situation. “The governor has to be the leader [in state government]. State government in Illinois is designed for the governor to be the most important position. In order for that to happen, the governor and legislature need to be on cordial, civil terms,” Edgar advised.

The former governor went on to say that education will receive quite a bit of attention from the newly elected chief executive.   “Bruce Rauner is passionate about education.   He has strong views about public education; some you’ll like and some you won’t.   But you will not be ignored over the next four years,” he said.

Speaking to specific education issues, Edgar said that changing the funding formula is one of the “most difficult things to do in education” policy.   He went on to say that time has come to review the formula and ensure it is accomplishing what it was intended to do.

In looking forward and addressing Illinois’ long term structural problems, Edgar said, “It’s going to take time and it’s not going to be easy. We need to put in place a plan and stick with it for several years.”

Dick Simpson, an author and professor at University of Illinois Chicago, was next to share his perspective on what the political landscape will look like in the coming years for Illinois. He recounted how the 2014 election was the most expensive non-presidential election cycle in history, and only one incumbent state legislator lost his reelection bid. In Illinois, the state legislature makeup did not change much with democrats holding close to a 2:1 majority.

He mentioned changes in Congress, including a U.S. Senate now controlled by republicans and an even larger republican majority in the U.S. House. “Schools get very little [funding] from the federal government,” Simpson reminded the audience.

In discussing some of the major issues that will effect upcoming state decisions, Simpson mentioned the state’s structural deficit and pension crisis. “If the income tax is not extended, Illinois will be back to a $10 billion deficit. A compromise is needed so that the tax can be rolled back over a period of four years,” he said.

In regards to the pension problems, Simpson said he hopes that the [Supreme] Court gives state officials “enough guidelines to craft a proper solution.”

Simpson also went over some of the changes to election law that voters saw in 2014, including same day registration, extended early voting, and mail in ballots.

He concluded by saying the recent election represented both good and bad news for the people of Illinois. “The good news is that there is now a divided government. The bad news; don’t wait for a check in the mail.”

The final panelist was James Nowlan, author, former state representative and senior fellow at the Institute of Government Public Affairs at the University of Illinois.

Nowlan jumped right into some of the bigger ticket items that the new governor and state legislature will have to deal with, including the budget, pensions, and Medicaid spending.   He said Rauner will need to present a budget for his first full year in office with about $4 billion less in revenue.

Pensions and Medicaid make up around $20 billion worth of state spending per year.   “Medicaid spending has increased 22 percent from 2002-2011. Pension costs have gone from $2 billion to $7 billion per year,” said Nowlan.

Nowlan said there are just not enough places to cut to make up for all the lost revenue and fill the current deficit.   He suggested some type of tax reform could be offered that would eliminate some exemptions and place a tax on services. But he acknowledged that it will not be easy to pass in the General Assembly.

“The state needs to think long term.   A high powered, blue-ribbon commission should be created that would recommend a ten-year plan,” Nowlan advised.

Nowlan summed up the recent elections with a common sentiment.   “We live in a world where running for reelection is more important that good public policy.”

After a few questions, Governor Edgar finished up the panel session by answering an inquiry about school mandates. He reminded those in attendance that during his time as chief executive the fewest number of mandates were imposed. And he closed with the most memorable line of the session, “If we aren’t going to give them [the schools] the money they need; stop telling them what to do.”

Board Member-Parent Hat

Presenter: Steve Clark, TAG consultant, IASB

Reporter: Heath Hendren, IASB assistant director-communications

The Sunday morning panel, Board Member/Parent Hat, was presented in an informal format allowing for open discussion between those in attendance and the moderator. Steve Clark, IASB consultant for Targeting Achievement through Governance (TAG), presented the panel as an opportunity for board members to think about their roles as both a parent and school board member.

The panel began with a simple question to attendees: “How many here have children in their district?” Everyone in attendance indicated they did.   A follow up question, “Has your board had a conversation about your role as a parent board member?” Only a few participants said they had. Clark explained that conversation is an important starting point because it allows board members to understand the expectations of their colleagues. He suggested a weekend “board retreat” where no decisions would be made as an opportune time to accomplish this.

Before delving into various scenarios that board member parents may encounter, Clark reminded everyone that the panel session is “not legal advice,” but intended as a discussion of “best practices.”

The panel focused on four real world scenarios that parent board members may themselves face, and, in fact, many in attendance had dealt during their time as school board members.   

The first situation involved a newly elected board member with a son on the basketball team but the child rarely gets playing time. The board member wants to see his son play more. Audience members were then asked how to best approach the coach.

While some board members in attendance had different strategies in dealing with the situation, all agreed that it was important to clearly define in what capacity you are approaching the coach; as a parent. Board members will always be looked at as a public figure, but when not at a board meeting in official capacity they have no authority over school decisions.

The next scenario dealt with a recently elected board member that has two special needs children in the district. This individual is often looked to by area parents as an advocate for special needs children and asked to attend IEP meetings. Should the newly seated board member continue to attend IEP meetings?

Most agreed it may not be the best idea to attend the IEP meetings due to possible conflict of interests. However, it was also rightfully mentioned that being elected to the school board does not mean you have to abandon your areas of expertise. Steve advised board members to remember the perspective of owner concerns versus customer concerns. As a board member it is imperative to look at the big picture for the district. Several options emerged from the audience to deal with such a situation; from abstaining from certain votes to pointing parents to another special needs advocate that can help them with their concerns. As always, if you follow agreed board policies there should be no issues.

The third situation looked at a board member with a child whose grades have significantly droped from the previous year. According to the child the reason for the lower grades is because “the teacher does not like him.” The question: what should you do, as a parent and a board member, to raise your child’s academic performance back to the level it should be?

Everyone agreed this is a situation where it is very important to follow the chain of command. Obviously, when dealing with your own children it will bring out more emotion, but it is important as a board member to treat this as if a parent approached you asking for advice in dealing with a similar situation. Speak with the teacher as a parent.   Ask what you can do to help improve your child’s grades. And get the teachers perspective. If problems persist it may be necessary to speak with the principal, and then the last stop would be discussing the matter with the superintendent.

The final scenario dealt with a sixth grade child who arrived home from school with torn clothes and a bloody nose. The child tells his parents that Johnny Smith beat him up and the playground monitor did nothing. How should you proceed as both a parent and board member?

Everyone agreed that there are two very distinctive roles in dealing with this situation. As a parent you obviously want to understand what transpired, why were you not notified by the school, what action will be taken against the bully and what actions will be taken to prevent future instances of this nature?

As a board member there are many issues that need addressed and questions that need answered. What is the procedure for monitoring the playground? Why weren’t the parents immediately informed of this incident from the school? Was board policy on bullying and fighting ignored? And does the policy need to be altered? If the policy on fighting and bullying were ignored or not enforced this is an issue the board must address with the superintendent.

In concluding the panel Steve Clark reminded participants that they are always parents, but it is important to be clear in your role when speaking with district staff.   As board members, remember to analyze the situation and determine whether it is a customer or owner concern. This will help determine which hat to wear.   And most importantly, remember that just because you are on the school board does not mean that you give up your rights as a parent.

Superintendent Employment Contracts - Highlights of an Administrator Contract: Good, Bad and Ugly of Buyout Clauses

Sara Groom Boucek, Associate Director of Legal Counsel, IASA
Stanley B. Eisenhammer, Partner, Hodeges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick & Kohn

Reporter: Dave Higgs, Principal, Round Lake Middle School, Round Lake Area Schools CUSD #116

Sara Boucek opened up the session with a welcome and discussed her and Stanley Eisenhammer’s experiences with this presentation. She then discussed length of superintendent contracts. By law, no contract can be longer than five years. Boucek advocates for the three year model for stability and advises that one year contracts mean that the superintendent is forced to look for other employment no matter how well they are performing. A three year contract or more, sends a statement to the administrator, the community and the district, and provides stability.

Next, Eisenhammer and Boucek discussed buy-out clauses. The discussion centered on the buy-out clause as a springboard for adversarial relationships. Unilateral termination clauses breed mistrust between boards and superintendents. The importance is to build these relationships proactively, because if litigation arises, both parties want a smooth way out of the relationship. In reality, by not having such clauses, the exit strategy is better and easier for both parties.

Evergreen contracts or grandfathered contracts had the automatic rollover, but now anything over a year contract must be a performance based contract. A good rule of thumb is to extend in year two, unless it is a two-year deal. By law, if a board does not tell a superintendent they are non-renewed by April 1 st then it is automatically rolled-over.

However, a contract cannot be extended if the goals have not been met. In the contract it is recommended to put in goals that are very easily met. The reason being if you have a bad superintendent and they still meet the goals there is no requirement to extend the superintendents contract. If you have other goals for school improvement put them in the evaluation document of the superintendent to hold him/her accountable. Best practice would argue that you have closed session meetings to discuss progress of performance so there are no surprises. You do not create the tool to go after the administrator, but to improve practice.

Boards need to advertise accurately in terms of salary for the position. Also, be straight forward with the benefits. It is ok to talk money during the interviews. Best practice is to put it to bed and have it in the contract upfront. For example, spell out the raises each year in terms of salary, whether the amount is stated or the conditions of the raises are spelled out. Eisenhammer encouraged boards to be generous in the beginning, despite facing criticism, because those same people will always criticize you no matter what you do. Pay what is reasonable and be generous. This also means that it cuts down on the bigger raises in the future. Merit pay is a consideration, however, usually there is not enough to make it worthwhile and you will also have to explain to the public the reasons for the merit pay.

Transparency with fringe benefits is important as well. Both panelists agreed that these conversations need to take place upfront about expectations. However, the benefits should be straight forward and not entangled and hidden from the public due to FOIA. Misappropriation of funds is a label no board or superintendent wants attached to their name; no matter how good or bad they have performed. Thus, the need for transparency.

Moving onto insurance, it is still standard that superintendents get full family health insurance. The affordable health care act has put pressure on boards to align employees with administrators. The importance when negotiating a superintendent contract is to have a conversation up front. However, be careful of conversion of health care benefits that would have negative ramifications on items such as their pension. There are many different approaches, but the trend is still to pay full family health insurance.

Standard vacation days include 20-26 days and 15-20 sick days. Some contracts include a 5-day buy back because those administrators in terms of sick days. Superintendents rarely take all of their vacation days. However, it is important to encourage the superintendent to take those vacation days due to the stress of the job. It becomes more expensive in the long run due to the problems caused by stress of the job. Usually sick days and personal days are aligned with what is given to teachers within the district.

Professional organization dues being paid by the board is standard in most contracts. Boards need to look at the details of the professional activities, and it is critical for boards to pay for their superintendents to be a part of local organizations, such as Lions club or chamber of commerce, to build those relationships.

Annuities of various sorts are standard, but the ability to have them with their superintendent contract depends on the financial health of the district. Powers and duties of the superintendent should have precise language, which is created by deep conversations on these expectations. However, if not in contract, the duties are set forth in the Illinois School Code.

Lastly, the panel session closed with a question and answer segment from the audience regarding administrative contracts. The questions were specific to individual districts and individual administrators in the audience.

Executive Searches Process

Donna Johnson, Director, Executive Searches, IASB
Thomas Leahy, Consultant, Executive Searches, IASB
Dave Love, Consultant, Executive Searches, IASB
Steve Lenzi, Board Vice President, CCSD 3
Steffanie Seegmiller, Board President ,CUSD 305
Andy Luther, President of CCSD 3

Reporter: Dave Higgs, Principal, Round Lake Middle School, Round Lake Area Schools CUSD 116

Donna Johnson opened up the panel session by discussing her personnel history in relation to executive searches. Next, Tom Leahy and Dave Love described their educational experiences and welcomed everyone and introduced Steffanie Seegmiller, Steve Lenzi, and Andy Luther. Donna Johnson then described the structure of the agenda and encouraged questions from the audience as the agenda was covered.

Donna Johnson discussed how IASB can assist local school boards in their search for a superintendent. She emphasized to the audience that the hiring of the superintendent is the most important job of a school board. The cost of the search is $5,950 and costs are held down because of a board’s membership in IASB. Executive searches will advise every step of the way, but it is a board’s search, so despite recommendation from the search committee, the final decision belongs to the local board.

Donna Johnson next reviewed simple steps to consider in selecting a superintendent. She stated that the current marketplace makes for a great time to hire a superintendent and then referred to the proven pyramid of the search process.

The Executive Search committee’s proven pyramid process includes 10 steps. The first step is to secure the resignation of the sitting superintendent and then for the board to approve timelines and develop an announcement, candidate criteria, and salary.   The second step is to announce and advertise the vacancy. The third step is to collect applications and then verify qualifications, experience, and licensure of all candidates. The forth step is to review all applications. The fifth step is to develop a list of recommended candidates. The sixth step is to conduct limited background inquiries on recommended candidates. The seventh step is to schedule candidate interviews with the board of education. The eighth step is to present recommended candidates to the board and begin interview preparation. During the eighth step is the only time the Executive Search Team will meet with the board in closed session. The ninth step is to assist in preparing for a site visit. The tenth step is hiring the new superintendent. After the tenth step is complete your field service director will come and conduct a team building exercise at no extra cost.

Dave Love spoke of the seven year summary of the data of Illinois superintendent changes and searches. The data is broken down by division and shows a fluctuation of the total amount searches. Mr. Love contributed this to pension talks at the state legislative level. This year marked a spike in the searches compared to the same time last year. The key to this data is to emphasize trends in divisions among other areas. Executive searches for 2013-14 included 19 superintendent positions, 4 Principal positions, 1 director position and 1 business manager position. Mr. Leahy noted that the search committee works with the superintendent directly in searches for non-superintendent positions. Multiple searches in a district get a 20% discount and executive searches also do interim searches at no cost, but this may change in the coming years.

The Executive Search website is and online applications are at:

There are a number of categories and documents that candidates must provide in the application process. Mr. Leahy then described important points on why not to do your own search as a school board.

Mr. Lenzi shared a board member’s perspective on superintendent searches. Mr. Lenzi spoke of his district’s search for a superintendent and the benefits of using Executive Searches from IASB. His anecdotal data included a number of practical experiences and he noted that his board did not go with the search committee recommendation. Mr. Lenzi also spoke of the plethora of needs different counties and districts have, based on size and geographical location of the district in the state. He then spoke of communication methods from Executive Searches and emphasized electronic or paper choices are up to the board. Lastly, he mentioned the expertise of professional, purposeful crafted interview questions that non-educators may not have and that the half-day session that Executive Searches provides is invaluable.

Ms. Seegmiller then shared her perspectives as a board member on her district’s superintendent search. She explained her district’s unique position on the search since they were also in the middle of annexing another district. The district the outgoing superintendent was leaving is not the same district the incoming superintendent would be leading. Ms. Seegmiller emphasized the need to trust the process and that the hire needs to be about the match of what the district needs. Both board members spoke of internal candidates and local candidates and how the executive search committee had a plan for such individuals.

Lastly, the panel fielded various questions from the audience. The questions ranged from logistics of the search, timing of the search, to the benefits and risks of hiring a candidate who has never been a superintendent. Multiple panelists answered all these questions. For example, in relation to the question on a first time superintendent, three panelists emphasized every superintendent was a first time superintendent at some point and the notion of a match of district needs is most important.

In conclusion, the questions and answers centered on specific needs of members in the audience, their district’s search process, and how executive searches could help them moving forward.

Leadership and Learning: Facilitated by APPLE Inc.

Dr Dan Cates, Superintendent, Township HS District 211
Dr William Shields, Superintendent, Community Consolidated School District 93
Dr. Janet Stutz, Superintendent, Orland School District 135

Reporter: Brian Hoelscher, Principal, Central Intermediate School, Central School District 51

Scott Meach, an educator on Apple team in Illinois, opened the panel session by describing his role in working with schools to implement apple. Meach went on to discuss how we should celebrate the great things that are happening. The panelists introduced themselves and gave a brief description of their one to one experience.

Meach made it clear that this session was for asking questions so the audience can engage with the panel. The important part of the panel discussion is to focus on the mission and vision of what we are trying to do in our districts-focus on WHY.

Meach presented information from Simon Sinek on how to approach innovation. He stated that many organizations begin the process with “What am I making?,” move to “How am I going to do it,” and then figure out “Why am I doing this.” Sinek maintains that this is not a good way to go about business. One must begin with the WHY.   Why am I doing this and then move to how am I going to do it, and finally to what do I need to create to make this happen.   Meach shared   the example of Southwest Airlines—started with the WHY?   They transformed airlines by focusing on the common person.

Meach posed the question of “Why move to one to one technology” to the superintendents.   Dan Cates began by stating that he is not here for Apple.   Cates stated that he met with teachers and said, “look what I can do if you give me the tools.” The science teacher showed that her kids could learn about testing radioactive materials in a lab in Australia. It was about putting more access to deeper, richer instruction in the hands of the teachers.

William Shields pointed to his mission, vision, and strategic plan as the plan for going forward. Differentiated instruction wasn’t quite working the way they were wanting.   This led to the district looking at ways to align more research based strategies and engage students in learning.

Janet Stutz described that students are growing up digital and to go back to methodology in the classroom with a teacher who is all knowing and using one text is a world the students are not living in. Stutz created a task force to find why they wanted to use technology.   They had financial stability to purchase the devices. Her district researched what the teachers and students needed and chose the devices to carry out that plan. The district hired tech coaches to help the teachers to effectively and efficiently use the devices within their classroom. This was meant to ensure success of the program.

Meach showed a graphic illustrating the evolution of technology in our students’ lives and put to the panel the question of, “What is a student going to do with an iPad?”   Shields described that despite parent and some teachers’ concerns, the iPad’s are used by students to demonstrate their learning. Stutz added that the students are making presentations to the board of education showing how they are utilizing their devices and the apps on those devices to create projects. Students can engage all day long, while not having to wait for a computer lab.

The students talked about content and moved from games to authentic use of the device to find the information they needed to succeed in class. Teachers are utilizing the devices for immediate, specific feedback with their students. Cates added a story about a teacher that had a device and recorded her students in a classroom without one-to-one, and with one-to-one. The one-to-one students have immediate feedback with each other, and the students were ready to go with all they need.

Meach showed a graphic of the steps Apple uses in a tech roll-out. The process is involved and thoughtful, taking into consideration all aspects of integration on a large or small scale.

The next question from the audience was, “What is the greatest challenge?”   Shields described the process of including all stakeholders—internal and external—to make sure that all members of the community are involved and excited about the program. He touched on a comment from an audience member that teachers could be a challenge. Teachers are given training and students help the teachers find new and engaging ways to use the devices. Cates stressed the need for training because the device doesn’t ensure success. It is the use of the device by the teachers.

Apps like Casper lock devices to one app that the teacher is using, and other technology is in place to help with distractibility. Stutz described the overwhelming feeling of teachers having trouble letting go with some of their teaching to allow students to take more of a role. Stutz said that they explained to the teachers of the need to take it slow and fully learn the applications they were using.

How many devices are lost or stolen during the year? Cates stated that the damage/loss rate was below 2% and they were having little or no issues with theft or breakage.   Shields stated that their breakage/replacement cost was so small that they were able to move to self-insuring their devices.   Cates went on to say that because the students all have a device, there is no incentive to steal. Stutz noted that one device was stolen in a robbery and was found using the ‘Find my iPad’ app.

The superintendents all noted that a focus on the “WHY” is the most important.   Mission, vision and strategic plan are crucial in a successful roll out.

A Board Member’s Guide to the Illinois Report Card

Marilyn Bellert, Associate Director, P-20 Center, Northern Illinois University
Steve Clark, Consultant, Illinois Association of School Boards, TAG

Moderator: Nesa Brauer, Trainer, IASB, Board Development/TAG

Reporter: Brian Hoelscher, Principal, Central Intermediate School, Central School District 51

Bellert presented the website. The report card was overhauled in 2013 due to the new state law and committee.   The number one goal of the change was to make it useful to parents, and easy for parents to access and understand the data from their school.

Why should we care?   Bellert stated that it is useful for community relations, data to generate questions and data to make policy decisions.

Bellert showed a slide of a school’s at a glance report (executive summary) and described the data contained in it. She shared a story of how the report showed a startling visual representation of the data to a school district which drove them to action. The data is clear to anybody that looks at it.

School highlights are placed on there by principals to highlight some of the great and unique aspects of the school and the school environment.   30 to 40 percent of principals don’t add to the school highlights page. School financial information is shown graphically on the “at a glance” report as well.

Bellert showed the group how to search for a school in the report card. This brings the user to a “school snapshot” page with “fast facts” regarding the school district: address, ISAT scores, academic growth summary, average class size, student mobility, etc.   Bellert then clicked on some of the fast fact categories to show how the user can drill down to get more specific information about the school. She then showed the group how to download the data and print it out for use.

Bellert showed the difference between elementary and high school sites with different metrics that show high school tests and benchmarks. She drew everyone’s attention to the bottom of the page that gives an explanation, context, and any resources available.

Steve Clark presented on how to use the IIRC to make board decisions. He recommended using a visual representation of data, use color on a consistent basis, and avoid averages so as not to mask the true picture.

Clark showed some recommendations for graphs to represent data that gives a better picture of the data for board members and the community.

Questions about achievement:

How are we doing?   Compared to what?- Standards, Self, Others?

Clark then went to the school report card to show how to answer these questions using the data from an Illinois school district. He illustrated how to find trend data for all students and for subgroup comparisons. Mr. Clark then showed how the school compares to other schools by test scores, demographics, spending per student, etc.

Clark went on to show some of the data from the classic IIRC that will be on the new Illinois Report Card soon. The cohort representation will be ready in December according to Bellert.

Clark suggests all board members become familiar with all of the data available to be able to speak intelligently about how the school district is doing.

Bellert explained to the audience that the drop in scores for tests was due to raising cut scores, which hurt low-performing schools more than high-performing schools. Students reported that they loved the new test and new test items on the online testing. Content of the test changed in the last two years, which affected the test scores. There has been a 100 percent change in types of items and content since 2012.

Starting 2015, there will be a new baseline which Bellert believes will go up and provide a new trendline for districts to compare themselves with.

Bellert described the 5Essentials Survey and how the respondents rated their school. She also showed how to get pie charts and trend data on school revenue and spending. Also new this year is the “freshmen on track tab” which shows student progress from freshmen through post-secondary.

There will be a school board member’s guide on the Illinois Report Card on the new version in 2015.

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