Is your governing school board penny wise and pound foolish? Here's how to tell.

Imagine that two employees (let's call them Emory and Cameron) start at the same job title at the same company on the same day. But that's where similarity ends, as their respective departments are completely different. 

For Emory, her predecessor had left everything in ship-shape condition. It was simple to pick up where the last person left off, and the department was already on a great trajectory. The problems were small: which paperclips to buy, how long should meetings be, how to organize conference room schedules, and resolving travel budgets.

For Cameron, his predecessor left a mess. The entire department was underperforming. The problems were huge: major conflict between two direct reports, customers leaving in droves, all projects behind schedule. Do you think meeting length, rooms, and travel were issues here too? You bet.

But if Cameron solved the same challenges that Emory was solving, it would certainly be progress but should be considered a failure. We'd say penny wise and pound foolish. 

Governing school boards face the same dilemma: will you spend your time debating which tractor brand to purchase, or how to make a huge dent in the percentage of 2nd graders who can't read?

Micro-Governance or Macro-Governance?

Easy problems, or hard ones? Cheerleader uniform colors, or graduation rates? Overzealous parent's 10th concern, or the percentage of students reading at grade level? 

Take a look at your past agendas. If you're using board portal software, you should also be able to see how much time you've spent in past meetings: is your board focusing on the easy problems, or the hard ones?  Is it caught up in the minutia of management, which is not the job of the board, or dedicated to its number one purpose for existing: improving student outcomes?

As a governing board member, your commission is to solve BIG problems. If you don't, who will? If your board signals to teachers and superintendents that colors matter more than literacy, then that's exactly how they're going to prioritize what they do. 

The art of macro-governance is leading forward on the major issues which, for school boards, should be student outcomes; then, trusting that the minor ones will fall into place by alignment with the big picture. 

How can you prove it? Time tracking

If you suspect your board may struggle with focus on the key issues, which for an education board are student outcomes, then here's something you can do: go through the past five board meetings, tally up time spent on each issue, and throw that issue into a category. 

One of those categories must be student outcomes, and you could really put all others under "everything else." 

[sample graph]

[sample graph]

Make a line graph. Here's how much time we spent on student outcomes, here's how much time we didn't. Use this graph to illustrate the importance of reorienting agendas to focusing on the major problems – even the ones nobody wants to talk about, like literacy, graduation rates, college/career readiness and (dare I say it?) something besides football.

Where the board spends its focus is exactly where superintendents and teachers will spend theirs. 

Get inspired with some success stories

Here are two real stories of governing school boards reorienting from micro-governance to macro-governance. We hope they inspire you to do the same. 

Board A would actually spend hours discussing all types of management issues such as how wide the bleachers should be in the new football stadium or what colors should be used at the senior prom. Board B would spend just as much time discussing issues concerning the staff or maintenance. During one meeting Board B spent an hour and a half discussing toilet paper. No kidding… this happened! In both cases, every meeting would continue for hours. 

These boards are not atypical. School boards across our nation, for the most part, are caught up in the day-to-day management of the district when management is not the job of the board.

With the help of NXTBoard consulting services, both Board A and Board B implemented a macro-governance student outcome focused framework. After implementation, these boards began to understand the role of the board, which is governance of student outcomes not management.

Both boards set three student outcome goals which related to the student needs of the district. They created a calendar to monitor those goals, and they monitored the goals consistently. They designated the management of the district to the superintendent and gave the superintendent boundaries but, also, freedom to manage.

Time trackers were implemented so there would be continual evaluation as to how time during board meetings was being spent on student outcomes. More effective and timely communication processes were created between administration and the board resulting in less time spent during board meetings searching for information and more time spent on action. 

Both boards implemented NXTBoard’s board management software platform to assist them in tracking goals, time and board success as well as managing board agendas, documents, events, and other board management details. 

These boards have changed drastically. The majority of time during the board meetings are now focused on student outcome goals. Most other items, except for those mandated by law, are now addressed through pre-meeting communication and approved through a consent agenda. Board time is now a time of action not information, and board meetings are now no more than two hours instead of six.

Most importantly, student outcomes are improving greatly, and student success is now at the forefront. Because these boards adopted a macro approach to governance which was student outcome focused, they have become leaders in governance for the state.  

Can you be the change alone?

If you’re not sure whether you can drive a shift to macro-governance by yourself, that's where NXTBoard can help. Our board consultants and experts have been in your postion and understand your pain points. We get how hard change management can be and specialize in helping boards rapidly reorient their behavior and change culture in a way that ripples throughout the organization. 

If that's something you need – even if you're not the decision-maker – get in touch so we can equip you to make a difference. 

You can also find more resource including whitepapers, ebooks and best practice in the NXTHub.