As the beginning of another—but vastly different—school year draws nearer, I’m hearing more and more about lengthy school board meetings. Some reportedly lasting nine or even 11 hours long.
Sounds productive, right?
Actually, it usually means quite the opposite.
In my experience serving as superintendent in Louisiana and Michigan, school board meetings that start to tick past two hours are increasingly less effective.
There can be many reasons for a school board meeting running long. Critical new information being introduced, one or more members not receiving or reviewing information ahead of time, a lack of understanding or agreement on how to resolve a key issue (which is sometimes the result of a new position or stance being raised), or the misunderstanding of a policy or procedure—just to name a few.
But all the reasons tend to boil down to a misunderstanding or lack of information before the actual meeting.
If your school board meetings are running long, it’s time to take a hard look at the work put in ahead of time.
Below are a few suggestions to help your school board meetings run smoothly and efficiently so that you can use that valuable time to reach resolutions that are in the best interest of students, families, and staff.
1). Give your community a voice
It goes without saying that, in making any decision, you need to understand your community’s perspectives—and not assume every stakeholder group has the same point of view on your topic or issue.
Administering thoughtful, research-backed surveys with targeted questions can help you get feedback from the appropriate stakeholder groups and shed light on the perspectives of each group and the overall community. Those results can inform your research and, if you have the right type of report, can help you prepare for your board presentation.
Other tools, like an “always-on” customer service solution, invite two-way conversations. Instead of over-run email inboxes and voicemails, stakeholders can share questions, thoughts, and concerns directly with district leaders and receive a timely, personal response—all while driving internal efficiencies. On the back end, district leaders are provided key metrics in real-time and can easily drill down on data or download presentation-ready reports.
As Lake Washington School District headed into what Deputy Superintendent Dr. Jon Holmen describes as “one of the most challenging boundary processes” they’ve had, the district used surveys and an online communications platform to share information and gather community input—resulting in a positive boundary modification experience for community members and district leaders alike.
“Typically when the board goes to adopt or take formal action on our boundary proposal, they will have anywhere from a hundred to two hundred families in the audience that had given public comments regarding significant concerns,” says Holmen. “When we got down to the final decision this time, we had two families at the board meeting.”
See how Lake Washington School District used surveys and Let’s Talk! to share information and gather community input on boundary modification ahead of their board meeting. CHECK IT OUT
Giving your community a voice on the topic early on and allowing their input to inform both the conversation and resolutions helps you earn and build trust. And we all know that public trust is the key to getting good things done.
2). Do the “deep-dive” before meeting time
You know the facts. You’ve gathered the data (which, as I said, should include input from your community). Now what?
It’s time to dive into the information you have, make sense of it, and parse it down to the key information to share within the community and board presentations. Make sure you:
- Understand the story behind any data—especially when stakeholder groups have differing opinions
- Conduct stakeholder focus groups or provide additional opportunities for community input, when appropriate, to get more information and provide clarity
- Identify and outline possible courses of action that will inform final plans
- Share detailed information and address concerns in committee meetings, if your board utilizes that structure
3). Share information ahead of the meeting for the board to review
I can’t stress this step enough; Nothing bogs a school board meeting down more than not sharing information ahead of time.
This gives board members time to review and reflect on your topic so that they aren’t hearing information for the first time at the meeting. This enables you to focus your presentation on the key facts and address any questions or concerns.
Ensure any information you provide is both easily digestible and essential to understanding and resolving the issue at hand. Include your community’s voice, such as pertinent findings from your survey or specific verbatim responses from community members, and preemptively address questions those who are less familiar with the topic may have.
At the end of the day, the board wants to do what’s in the best interest of the community. Make sure they have all the data and information they need to do that.
4). Keep your board presentation clear and concise
To keep the board agenda on track, prepare—and stick to—a few focused, hard-hitting talking points about your topic or issue. Remind board members of the key points without getting into the weeds on the information you’ve already provided them.
Remember, the goal of the school board meeting is to make informed decisions that are in the best interest of students, families, and staff. Focus on that during—and ahead of—your next school board meeting, and you can increase the meeting’s productivity without increasing the duration.