Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Secrets of School Governance from MASC (#MASCconf2015)

Such a privilege to sit on the District Governance Program panel with Tari Thomas, Superintendent of Ralph Mahar Regional and presenter Dorothy Presser, MASC Field Director. 

From the web site: “The District Governance Program [DGP] is designed to focus on continuous improvement and to help school committees and superintendents develop new strategies for teamwork and collaboration that will enhance student achievement. [It] helps build a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the school committee and those of the superintendent.” 

How is it structured? Like a school house…
·      Building the Foundation (Operating Protocols)
·      Raising the Frame (Vision and Goals)
·      Installing the Infrastructure (Monitoring Progress)
·      Setting the Walls (Effective Meetings)
·      Laying the Roof (Sustaining Progress)

How does it work? Districts contact Dorothy and indicate the desire for assistance in improving their governance. Dorothy meets with the Superintendent and Board Chair to determine the district’s current governance status, evaluate its unique needs, and create a plan for tackling challenges. (Tari found this process particularly insightful and useful.)

In the interest of student achievement, districts should seek:
·      a vision of high expectations
·      accountability
·      strong relationships
·      data to monitor progress
·      to lead as a united team

Practices that support success:
·      varied and purposeful meetings (try for 1/quarter that is not a business meeting)
·      strong self-governance
·      having a board professional development plan
·      strong Superintendent/Committee collaboration (MASC has info on this)

High-functioning governance teams (administration and Committee):
·      abide by their unique roles
·      agree on how to operate and communicate
·      devote time to the work
·      plan and execute efficient business meetings
·      have frequent, informal conversations
·      share trust and mutual respect

These are things we talked about as being useful in Melrose (and apologies to Tari as I don’t have specifics for hers – am sure she’d be happy to talk with you about them):
·      Adopting norms and protocols that reflect the behaviors of the Committee. (We used the DGP’s headings: “Who we represent; How we conduct business; How we’ll treat each other; How we’ll communicate; How we’ll improve; Limits of power; What happens when things go wrong.” You can find them here: http://tinyurl.com/q6c8zpq. We put a copy into a clear notebook sleeve and have one at every Committee member’s desk for each meeting.
·      Determining and employing overarching goals, SMART goals, and action items http://tinyurl.com/neyxbmz).
·      Use of a rolling agenda (pp 241-244 here: http://tinyurl.com/nl8s3zk.)
·      Use of a consent agenda for common and regular reports (like monthly budget summaries, field trips, warrants, meeting minutes, personnel reports, cafeteria reports, maintenance reports, etc.) that generally don’t generate much dialogue among Committee members since they are posted in packets the Friday prior to Tuesday meetings and members can contact the Supt. with questions in advance. In the introduction to the Consent Agenda in a meeting, the Chair always asks if anyone wants to remove and item from the Consent Agenda, and if so, the Chair determines where on the agenda that item will be discussed and voted.
·      Using By-Laws and policy (“B” section of most policy manuals) to codify intentions around how meetings will be run (http://melroseschools.com/school-committee/district-policy-manual/).
·      Employing data dashboards (here: http://melroseschools.com/administration/district-dashboard/ and is a work in progress!).
·      Performing a yearly self-evaluation that can lead to formation of goals for the following year. (Our 2015 process was approved last night and can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/nl8s3zk on pp. 162-170.) Virtually the same process was used last year at this time, so you can see how members responded on the evaluation and the ensuing report that led to goal formation early this year.)

Using a continuous cycle of goal setting, performance monitoring, and self-reflection can support Committee accomplishment of the work that improves student learning in a thoughtful, collaborative way.