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: lauriegood@mac.com

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Opinions, authority, and who's in charge?

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.


Anonymous said...

We elect individuals to the board not a flock of sheep that follow the herd without thinking. If one member or two disagree with the majority on any issue, they should express themselves freely, both amongst their fellow board members and publicly. That " previous long-time BOE member and a veteran of many corporate and philanthropic boards" that advised you to fall in with the group perhaps was at it for too long and had lost something over the years of service. People do wear out eventually and become complacent if they stay at it too long or spread themselves too thin. This BOE needs individuals that will stay true to the task at hand and the public they serve, who will give that priority over getting along with the other board members.

Laurie said...

You are absolutely right…up until the point that the Board makes a decision, passes a motion, etc. Once that happens, the Board’s “opinion” is known and is the only opinion that may drive administrative action.

Anonymous said...

The board's decisions and the individual board members' opinions are two different things. One should never eclipse the other. We, the public you serve, are not children that need to be handled by a united front and should never be treated that way. It is vital that we know how each board member weighs in the issues both before and after the decisions are made. How else are we to know which board members represent our interests as we see them and which do not? Perhaps that is the goal of this board, but we're not buying it.

Laurie said...

Good points...food for thought. There's a bit of conflict in the twin priorities of the Board: giving guidance to the administration vs. providing a window on the deliberative process to the public. At first glance, I would have to argue that the former takes precedence. Of course, if we can have both, I'd be thrilled.

Anonymous said...

Considering the comments you've made Laurie and your track record on the board, I have to question the sincerity of how thrilled you'd actually be. It's just too little too late and I don't see the board's guidance of the administration as being in any conflict with its transparency to the public. Frankly, the idea that any of the board's actions would be considered to be in conflict with the board's transparency to the public is troubling, to say the least. Perhaps new board members will be able to remain true to themselves and the public.

Anonymous said...

I daresay new board members would find it just as hard to balance individuality and board membership. I can honestly say I have not thought about it before. I would like to say thank you to Laurie for sharing her personal experience. It is very interesting.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully, the candidates who are running against the incumbents will be up for the job. No one should settle for anything less than transparency. Since when is it hard to be honest and forthright anyway? If a board member has a valid point of view, he or she should have no problem expressing it. And if the majority of the board disagrees, they should be mature enough to accept a differing point of view and respect that person's right to have it. Anything less is inappropriate and unacceptable. I mean really, if our congress can do it, our school board should be able to handle it.

Laurie said...

@11:50, I was speaking very specifically about your (I think they were your?) comments about Board members arguing their positions AFTER the BOE has made a decision or voted on a motion. I'm not sure I see the benefit of giving the administration a decision and then re-hashing it or criticizing the decision the next day. That's the conflict I was referring to. You don't think that could possibly be counter-productive?

@1:32, You are absolutely correct and in my experience, this is how our Board operates. Speaking for myself, I am honest and forthright, I have no problem expressing my opinion, and I am mature enough to accept differing points of view.

Back to @11:50, if you're really considering my "track record," then you will recall discussions at the Board table regarding involving community members in committees (I want to do it more) and you will note that the current BOE and administration share more information than in the past. And you will, obviously, have seen me “transparently” posting my thoughts and opinions on this blog.

Also, @11:50, there’s no need to question my sincerity. I work every day to remain true to myself and the public. This may not be as easy as you think it is. I could skip all this self-reflection and just pretend, be a slick politician, say only what I think you want to hear, but it's not me. If you don't like it, fine. But my earlier posts were me being true to myself and just thinking out loud.

This conversation-by-anonymous-blog-comment is tough, but I appreciate your taking the time.

Anonymous said...

Laurie, what can I say? You're a legend in your own mind, but no one's buying it. Funny how you can take someone else's words out of context and use them to glorify yourself. That's hardly honest or forthright. Those of us that have been around long enough and have paid attention know better. Oh and by the way, there is a difference between remaining true to your convictions and re-arguing a point that's already been settled, but I'm sure you knew that in spite of your misleading response.