Black Gold School Division
The following is based on excerpts from the Alberta School Boards Association: “What Do School Boards do?” (for the full document follow this link to the ASBA Trustee Handbook )
In Alberta, residents elect school boards to act for the legislature in their local schools and communities. School boards exist because of the belief that government – and decisions – made closest to the people being governed are the most effective.
Authority Through the Education Act, Alberta’s legislature has delegated some authority for the governance of education to school boards. As statutory corporations school boards have obligations to perform and they have powers to carry out these tasks.
Advocacy The school board is an advocate for public education and for the local school system. In this capacity, the school board builds positive relationships through consultation with its constituents and shares information with them, MLAs and other government agencies – as an individual board – and collectively through the ASBA.
Leadership School boards exercise leadership through governance in three areas: fiduciary leadership; strategic leadership and generative leadership.
In its fiduciary leadership role the board focuses on its legal responsibilities as defined in the School Act, regulations and other legislation pertinent to children and youth. The board provides oversight and stewardship to ensure:
The school board’s strategic leadership role sees school boards looking into the future – conducting environmental scans of internal and external issues and trends. In this role, the school board reviews, revises or drafts the school jurisdiction’s mission, values, vision and goals. This role involves planning and making decisions about resources, programs and services that reflect long term priorities.
The school board’s generative leadership role is grounded in the notion that “it takes a whole village to raise a child”. It recognizes that governance should not exist in isolation but that it should engage the community. In its generative leadership role, the school board reaches out to involve the community in a dialogue about the needs of the community, its youth and the future. Moving beyond consultation, generative leadership suggests that school boards share direction-setting and sometimes decision-making with others. This role increases education’s profile as a fundamental community resource and it gives all citizens an opportunity to shape the direction that education takes locally.
In 7 Signs of Effective School Board Members, Kathryn Blumsack, director of board development for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, and Terry McCabe, former associate executive director for the Maine School Boards Association, dish out advice to incoming school trustees. We’ve summarized their key points below.
Copyright 2013 National School Boards Association. All rights reserved.
1. Going solo’s a no-no
As an incoming trustee, you will hear from lots of people about problems and situations they want you to fix. While it may be tempting to say yes – remember as a school trustee, you have no individual legal authority to make a decision that binds your school board to action. When you are approached, one of the wisest things you can do is to help people understand that you can only get things done as part of the team – the whole school board. This doesn’t mean you can’t champion an issue – or that you can’t raise issues; indeed the more you communicate with your fellow trustees about a matter, the more likely you are to get support for your priorities and ideas.
2. Respect the team
While you were elected as an individual, as a member of the school board you are part of a team. Collaboration and respect must be your touchstones. From budgets to grievances, school boards deal with extremely difficult and vexing issues. It’s common for emotions to run high. Trustees who treat other trustees with respect tend to be the most effective. Committing to collaboration and respect doesn’t mean consensus. There is honor in casting a sincere vote, win or lose, but after the vote, don’t hold a grudge. Effective school boards move forward together. Remember that as the elected school board all eyes are on you. You set the tone for the entire system. Staff, students, parents and the community are watching to see how the board functions together. Instill confidence.
3. Understand the difference between Board and staff
Effective trustees refrain from getting involved in management functions that are the responsibility of the superintendent and staff. While the school board has great power, it’s not the power to order individuals to “do this” or “stop doing that.”
A school board’s power lies in its ability to set the goals and policies for the jurisdiction and the power to demand accountability for reaching those goals and executing those policies. The fundamental reason to refrain from trying to perform management functions is so you can hold the system – and above all the superintendent – accountable for results. As a new trustee, make a point of finding out about your school system’s policy for responding to concerns from members of the public, to ensure that every concern gets a fair hearing and timely resolution.
4. Share and defend your views, but listen to the views of others
You won’t “win” on every issue you care about. In the charged and urgent arena of public education, expect to be flexible, even as you honor your deepest values and commitments. There will be times when change must be made, when tradition cannot be honored or when pressure must be resisted. Sometimes, you’ll measure your school board’s success not by how agreeable you all are, but by the board’s ability to disagree respectfully and have a spirited discussion followed by a difficult vote. After a difficult vote, effective boards embrace the decision and move forward together.
5. Do your homework and ask tough questions
Come to meetings prepared to engage in discussions, ask questions, and seek clarification. Asking sharp questions can help clarify issues not just for you, but for students, families, the community and employees. Here are some good questions to keep in mind:
6. Respect your oath
You will swear an oath to uphold laws pertaining to public education. An important aspect of the public trust is to maintain confidentiality when appropriate. Confidential matters typically include personnel issues, legal matters, negotiations, land acquisition and grievances.
7. Keep learning
Participate in professional development and commit the time and energy necessary to be an informed and effective leader. You should understand your school system’s vision, goals, and policies; its current successes, challenges, and opportunities; and the educational environment in your community. Most importantly, you should know the aspirations and expectations of the students and parents.
ASBA consultants Jim Gibbons and Terry Gunderson added the following to the list:
8. Trustees make decisions with the “whole community” in mind
Trustees have the autonomy to deliberate and act for the greater common good – even if their decision runs counter to their own constituents’ interests. This dichotomy causes the most dissent on school boards. Trustees need to bring forward the communities’ views; debate with vigor while keeping the best interests of the whole jurisdiction in mind.