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NSBA 2016 Insights: Nurturing Good Superintendent-Board Relations

It’s the most important relationship in K12 education. The local school board that represents the voice of the community and the superintendent, who is tasked with carrying out the board’s vision.

Both parties share a common goal: to drive better learning outcomes and experiences for students and families. The destination is never in dispute; it’s the route that can put even the most well-intentioned school decision-makers at odds.

When confrontations do come to a head, it comes down to who’s in charge. The school board? The board president? The superintendent?

These debates often lead to political gridlock and infighting, which paralyzes district decision-making and causes educators and others in the community to lose focus.

It’s a long-standing problem—one that befalls even the best school districts. For those that do rise above, the solution almost always comes in the wake of a single revelation: The school board and superintendent might call the shots, but it’s the community that’s in charge.

The quicker you realize this—and begin actively listening to your community—the easier and more productive your job will become. Say nothing for the progress your schools and students will make.

Make each voice count
Dr. Dana Bedden, superintendent of Richmond Public Schools (RPS) in Virginia, credits good school-board relations with helping him stay focused. Such relationships flourish when district leaders and board members focus on engaging the community.

“You have to move past the anecdotes and distractions,” says Bedden. “My goal is to ensure each and every stakeholder that their voice counts.”

Bedden will share his successful philosophy for community collaboration and productive board relations at the upcoming NSBA Conference (#NSBAConf) in Boston.

Want to overcome the pain of political infighting to build a more productive relationship with school board members and other decision makers in your district? Headed to NSBA?

Join him for:

Hope(less) is Not a Strategy: Dismantling Political Gridlock without All-Out Compromise
When: Sunday April 10 at 3:45 p.m.
Where: Room 255

Engage, educate, empower
Ithaca City Schools Superintendent Luvelle Brown is another leader who subscribes to the school of the community collaboration.

Operating according to his three E’s, “Engage, Educate, Empower,” Brown stresses the importance of open and honest dialogues with his school community, be it board members or parents or teachers or students. That means constantly listening—and occasionally engaging in tough but necessary conversations.

Take a quick look at Brown’s social media stream—he’s a big Twitter user (@luvelleb)—and you’ll see images of him with his sleeves rolled up, talking and collaborating with members of the local school board.

Says Brown: “I share examples of our work, and I ask folks to comment: What do you see here that you like? What don’t you like? I’m constantly asking questions on these networks, hoping folks will respond.”

His approach is paying off. Graduation rates in Ithaca are up from 74 percent to 94 percent in recent years. The district has also seen a 63 percent reduction in discipline referrals.

For more about how Brown works with school board leaders, join him at NSBA for:

Want Your Schools to Succeed? Focus on the Only Relationship That Matters
When: Sunday, April 10 at 1:30 p.m.
Where: Room 255

Got a full dance card on Sunday? Catch Luvelle and Ithaca board member Brad Grainger Monday for:

Measuring What We Value: How Vision and Mission Impacts Accountability and Metrics
When: Monday, April 11 at 10:00 a.m.
Where: Room 152

Not going to NSBA, but still want ideas for how to engage your community in meaningful conversations? Our Definitive Guide Series offers tips and advice from some of the nation’s brightest educators. Download our latest installments on social media and customer service, and start making smart reforms today.