I wanted to share a little bit about a couple of aspects of "Boardsmanship" that are interesting, possibly eye-opening, and at the very least illustrate a little sliver of life as a member of the Board of Education.
For me, being a member of a Board is challenging in a lot of ways. One of them is in the balance of “me” vs. “board.” By design, and by law, no individual Board member has any authority or power or influence over any part of the school district. In state-mandated training by the New Jersey School Boards Association, and in books I’ve read, like The Five Habits of High-Impact School Boards, The Essential School Board Book and The Secrets of School Board Success (yes, I’m the kind of person who researched and read things like this…early on in my tenure), Board members are cautioned against the dangers of “micro managing.” For someone who, as a parent, had no problem emailing a principal or superintendent with my opinion of how something could be done better, it puts me in a strange, seemingly less-empowered place as a Board member.
Within the Board, obviously we all have our own approaches to our responsibilities and we all have opinions about various issues. But the actual authority of the Board only exists as that group of five people.
Early on, I got some advice from a previous long-time BOE member and a veteran of many corporate and philanthropic boards. He said, once the Board makes a decision, that’s it. Individual opinions must be put aside, and members must support the Board’s decision and advance the Board’s efforts accordingly. Infighting and public Tuesday-morning quarterbacking are dysfunctional. I believe that. I also know that we all still have plenty of ways to communicate our alternate views, if we have them, with each other.
But…back to the Board’s authority. What does it mean? It may be news to some residents that the Board of Education does not run the Ridgewood Public Schools. It’s true and it’s the law. I know I’ve written about this in the past, but it bears repeating. The BOE is not responsible for running the schools, but the BOE is responsible for ensuring that the schools are well run. (That’s the way they present it at the NJSBA.) How are we supposed to do this? By setting policy and goals that guide those who actually run the schools, namely the superintendent and district staff. All day-to-day decisions are the superintendent’s decisions to make. The superintendent, in turn, is the only staff person that the BOE supervises. We evaluate his performance in a formal way every year, with detailed feedback, action plans, goal-setting, etc.
At this time of year, when citizens pay more attention to what Board members think and how Board members perform, I think it’s important to keep these facts of boardsmanship and Board responsibilities in mind.
Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org