It's not a bad model but it isn't working for Seattle Public Schools.
It isn't working for three primary reasons:
- The Board isn't doing it's job of setting expectations.
- The Board isn't doing it's job of staying focused on policy.
- The Board isn't enforcing the policies that limit the means
and three secondary reasons:
- The Board isn't evaluating the superintendent properly.
- A lot of the Board policies are not consistent with this model.
- The Board often abdicates their policy duty to the staff.
So what can be done to fix these flaws and make the district governance model work? All of the problems, as you can see, are Board-based, so only the Board can implement the fixes. Can a board director do it alone? Can the Board do it if they act in unity? How would they do it?
I think the Board could do it if they acted in unity and, of course, a Board Retreat would be the place to start.
The first thing they would have to do is acknowledge the current state. That's quite an obstacle and a challenge in itself. I don't think the current board directors are capable of acknowledging how they are obstructing the implementation of an effective governance model.
Second, these fixes represent more work than this board has shown an interest in doing. They don't have much appetite for work; this board does less than any I can recall. Contrast that indolence with the long list of expectations they would have to set. Remember that Policy 2090 requires the Board to set expectations for every academic program. They haven't done even one. There are some expectations set in the Strategic Plan, but every policy would have to reflect an expectation. That expectation could be as simple as "The superintendent will meet the requirements of state and federal law." but there has to be something said for each one. The Board would also have to do the work of revising the policies to align with this model. They are supposedly in the middle of a policy revision project but it is clearly stalled.
Third, the Board would have to do the work of enforcing policy and they appear resolutely opposed to accepting that task. I think they are concerned that it would create the impression that they are in conflict with the superintendent and staff. That's a pretty sad commentary because it pre-supposes that the staff wants to violate policy.
So while it is theoretically possible for the Board to do the work to fix the governance model for the District, I don't think they will do it. Until they do, the governance model will remain broken and the District will be misgoverned. Moreover, I have little optimism that a new board would do the work to fix the governance model. Board directors are drawn either from the downtown establishment/ed reform camp which favors a weak board that does nothing but what the superintendent tells them to do or from the activist camp which doesn't want to be restricted to policy work.