Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Key Work of School Boards

On June 18 I attended the regular monthly meeting of the Cashton Board of Education.  As principal I have the opportunity to attend each monthly meeting.  This month I focused on analyzing our board's adherence to a continuous improvement methodology.  As outlined in The Key Work of School Boards, continuous improvement is a way of thinking that focuses on doing things better.  While there is not a specific blueprint that must be followed, there are clear actions that are taken by boards focused on continuous improvement.  Making decisions based on data, adopting a customer focus, consistent review of new and existing programs, fostering open lines of communication, and celebrating evidence of improvement are strong indicators that a board is modeling continuous improvement.

The June meeting was a good example of how our board consistently reviews new and existing programs.   Ms. Peterson, our reading specialist, reported on the 2011-2012 middle school literacy program and set 2012-13 goals.  Ms. Sanders (Special Education teacher) and Ms. Menzynski (Title I teacher), presented the Title I and Special Education Evaluation and Needs Assessment Results.  Mr. Alderson (Elementary Teacher) and I presented the district and building evaluation of 2011-12 goals and set 2012-13 goals.  During each of these presentations multiple forms of data were used and board members asked questions to each presenter. The questions allowed the presenters to clarify their message and indicated the boards intent to foster open lines of communication.  There were several other agenda items, but the other critical topic was budget information provided by the Department of Instruction.  The superintendent reviewed the special education aid computation, the final revenue limit calculation, the state equalization aid, and membership data.  The ensuing discussion focused on the overall fiscal health of the district and the ramifications of funding adjustments from the state.  As I reflect on the meeting, it is clear our board is committed to the continuous improvement process.   The current superintendent has done a good job cultivating an attitude that is focused on quality and recognizing those who produce it.

If I were to become superintendent of a district, an initial goal would be to listen and to study school district data.  It will be important for me to understand how decisions are made and to what level continuous improvement already exists in the district.  If I felt it was needed, I would suggest that board members participate in a training to help them better understand the principles and tools of continuous improvement.  This training, perhaps in the form of a board retreat, would allow the board an opportunity to better understand the importance of developing a culture that promotes a process of improvement.  Another priority would be to complete an academic review of the district.  A superintendent should understand which systems are performing well in the district and which systems are under performing.  A systems audit would be presented the board and specific goals outlined to address areas of deficiency.  The audit would also provide an opportunity to showcase successful programs, teachers, and students.  Finally, I would take steps to establish a respectful and positive culture.  A respectful culture is built on a foundation of trust and communication.  Visiting every school; creating feedback systems for teachers, parents, and students; and following through on delivered promises would be a high priority.


  1. It is too bad I didn't live closer to your district. It sounds like your district does a superb job of including individuals in the continuous improvement process. I like that there were several different presenters from the staff presenting on the different areas that were evaluated during the past year and that they were able to communicate the goals for the next year. Did the board help set those goals or was that something that the presenters did and communicated that with the board? Your last statement about following through on the promises that are delivered being a priority is great. I plan to do the same. Too many times people make big plans with all the best intentions, but things may go by the wayside and things don't get accomplished, which may result in the interruption of the continuous improvement process.

  2. I agree very much with the idea of asking staff to present their work to the school board on a regular basis. They are the ones carrying out the mission of the district during the school day and their work often goes unnoticed or seemingly unappreciated. In order to continue finding growth, the school board must hear the great things going on in their district from the folks that help make it happen. I commend your district and I feel that my district is very similar in the way we celebrate our successes.

  3. David,
    It sounds like Cashton is ahead of most with their continuous improvement methods. I love to hear that you have staff members present to the board during meetings. Our focus needs to remain squarely around students and by having staff present what is going on in the classroom on a regular basis, it helps keep that focus. All too often school boards can get out of touch with what really matters.

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