A popular reaction to School Board dysfunction around the country is to turn to the Policy Governance model as defined by John Carver. In this model, the School Board defines the vision, providing clear policy direction, and then holds the Superintendent and district staff accountable for making it happen. The Mercer Island School Board received training in and adopted this model in 2004. Many other urban school districts around the country, including Austin, Texas, have adopted this model in recent years as well.
While I like the quote from Carver above (especially the part I put in bold), I have some concerns about the appropriateness of the Policy Governance model for School Boards. The model was developed for private for-profit and non-profit organizations, on which the Board members are not public elected officials.
"A radical redesign of the function of school boards, Carver explains, would include (1) a focus on educational results rather than on the methods by which they were achieved, (2) newly defined relationships with the general public and parents, and (3) a commitment on the part of the board to speak with one voice rather than as a group of individuals with individual agendas."
A different perspective on School Board governance models is provided by William Price, a former superintendent and current professor of Education, in his article Policy Governance Revisited. He addresses the specific issues raised by having elected School Board members, along with recent trends that have changed expectations of school superintendents.
"What seems clear is that in the search for the heroic leader who will single-handedly cure a troubled organization, governing boards are unwittingly changing the Board/CEO relationship... School boards (as well as some corporate boards) are, through their executive searches, seeking a CEO who will be expected to, among other things, forge a vision for the organization, translate that vision into a strategic plan and lead a campaign for increasing financial resources. Boards also seek candidates who will be expected to build coalitions in the community that resolve competing interests among the various stakeholders...In a Policy Governance model, many of these tasks would rest not with the CEO, but with the governing board."So before the hiring process for the new superintendent begins, and before the next round of School Board elections, we need to spend some time defining what the expectations of those roles are, and how the relationship between them will be defined, and redefined as necessary, over time.
"The argument over policy versus operations as it relates to school boards and superintendents is rooted in an outdated view of school districts as organizations and of the current nature of the superintendency. Many superintendents now seem less concerned with the frequent overlapping of roles and responsibilities between the board and the superintendent and more concerned that both parties at least agree on who is expected to do what task in a given situation...This is consistent with much of the past research on the importance of developing and nurturing a cooperative relationship between the superintendent and the board by a carefully choreographed negotiated system of the sharing of roles and responsibilities. Such an interactive relationship avoids getting into an unnecessary contest over roles that too often detracts from the real mission of the school district."
http://www.asbj.com/governance/index.html - collection of links on School Governance by the American School Board Journal
School Governance - National School Boards Association
Using School Board Policy To Improve Student Achievement
More Boards Mulling 'Policy Governance'
Effective School Governance
New Patterns of School Governance