Sunday’s presentation, “Professional Governance Boards = Student Success,” was based on the idea that becoming a professionally functioning board of education is an essential precondition to a school district achieving sustainable student success.
In this new culture, the board chair (or president) must set the tone and ensure that this new paradigm, including new roles and responsibilities, is followed and supported by the board, since it will affect the work of staff and the achievement of students.
The two presenters from Connecticut — Gary Brochu, a board chair for a decade and a half, and Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education — based their presentation on the foundation first set out in the Iowa Association of School Boards’ Lighthouse Study. The study found that governance of school boards has a direct relationship to student achievement.
In their presentation, Brochu and Rader, discussed the seven characteristics of a professional governance board:
• Always model desired behavior.
• Understand the board’s leadership role and responsibilities.
• Focus and insist on real accountability.
• The board and its members are always prepared.
• Board members govern as one board.
• The board and its members are characterized by high expectations.
• Individual members assume responsibility for the entire board’s success.
These characteristics were further explained and expanded, often with illustrations and examples for board members of what professional governance looks like in practice. Rader took attendees through a discussion of the board chair’s special role in creating and sustaining a culture and practice of professionalism, including the relationship with the superintendent. Rader stressed the importance of relationships, especially among board members, as they deal with the special challenges of “leading leaders.”
The deliberate choosing and building of a unique and sustainable board culture was a theme throughout the presentation. Brochu described a board culture as “a continuous affirmation of a board’s values,” regardless of the district’s challenges. The necessity of a powerful culture that reaffirms universally held values was placed at the center of creating a professional governance board.
In the words of Jim Senigal, the retired Costco CEO who was quoted during the presentation — “Culture isn’t the most important thing. Culture is the only thing.”
Building a legacy of professionalism and performance isn’t accomplished easily or quickly. But it’s work worth doing. And according to the two presenters, now is a good time to start.