School Boards and Achievement: Finding the Right Balance

Dr. Vincent F. Cotter and Dr. Robert D. Hassler

Having recently attended the National School Boards Association Conference in San Antonio, Texas, an overwhelming concern expressed to us was the question of how to address stagnant or poor student achievement in a school or school district.  Some board members were even concerned that any internal dialogue about student achievement to other board members or the superintendent might actually upset the “apple cart” of existing relationships and plummet the school or district into one of conflict and dysfunction.

While we recognize the importance of having a functional board that has a positive relationship with the superintendent, we also do not believe that having a dialogue about achievement and maintaining a positive relationship are mutually exclusive of each other.   It’s not a conversation that should be avoided but rather embraced because each student’s future depends on it.  Public education is often a family’s only option and is really the only equalizer to social mobility. To reach higher performance levels all stakeholders must discuss it with integrity and mutual respect.

At the same time, we believe that discussing student achievement among board members and the superintendent is really one of charting the future by incorporating transparency and collaboration into the process.  It is not about micromanaging a district but rather providing a direction for improvement and aligning the resources to do it.

The Exemplary Schools Organization approach is a focused investment in the human potential of your district without the disruption or turmoil of meaningless change. Some might say, Why? We choose to say, Why Not! We prefer to say that it is not about Excuses but rather Solutions! It is about working together in a synergistic manner.

As a board member, we encourage you to enjoin all stakeholders on the journey toward higher performance.  It is not about blame or the past but rather a collaborative problem solving to reach the future.  It is the essence of a team working toward the expected and entrusted goal of higher performance.


Isn’t Student Achievement the Superintendent’s job?

For sure but every member of the team can play a role.  If achievement in your school or district is flat, stagnant or poor, you have a responsibility to begin a dialogue about how it can be reversed.  This dialogue is not adversarial but rather collegial, professional and collaborative. Remember the board is about the big picture and the superintendent’s role is about the “weeds” of actual implementation.

Will a discussion on achievement change my relationship with the Superintendent or fellow board members?

It depends on how the topic is discussed.  We believe that if the topic is approached in a collaborative, problem-solving manner, then it should not and the superintendent should welcome such a partnership on such a complex issue.

How do I convince fellow board members or other “fence sitters” to engage in such a discussion?

While board members are usually elected or appointed due to campaign positions, the overarching responsibility of each board member is to assure that each student, upon graduation, is prepared for the future.  In doing so, each student should have the inherent right to maximize their learning potential.  It is each board member’s moral and ethical responsibility to deliver this inherent right which supersedes any election platform or promise. Parents expect it and Students deserve it!

Does a focus on student achievement actually cost more money?

Not really.  We believe that our approach focuses on building the internal capacity of the organization by identifying the disconnections that impede student performance.

How does the Exemplary Schools Organization get everyone on the “same page?”

We utilize data through an instrument that highlights the disconnections among stakeholders.  When combined with other data, it will provide a pathway toward improvement and establishes a sense of urgency to collaborate toward a common goal.

What process does the Exemplary Schools Organization advocate?

First and foremost, we are about collaboration, team, and transparency. In the end, all stakeholders of the organization must believe in the process and the plan to reach higher performance levels.  We begin by eliminating the disconnections and then unifying everyone in a course of action that is reflective of the district’s values, beliefs, mission, and goals but also one that focuses on Alignment, Atmosphere, Accountability and Adept Leadership of the organization.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s