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Posted on May 1, 2012

Does Your Board Receive a Report Card?

Does Your Board Receive a Report Card?

Assessment.

It seems impossible to imagine a school without some form of assessment. School boards, principals, and parents have the rightful expectation that assessment is an integral part of what teachers do. Some guiding questions that shape student assessment in our Christian schools include:

  • How can assessment encourage learning?
  • How can assessment foster continuous learning?
  • How could children and teenagers demonstrate their learning?
  • How can assessment shape and improve instruction?
  • What types of assessment strategies are available?

School boards and parents also have an expectation that assessment is an integral part of what principals do. Ensuring that excellent Christian teaching is happening in every classroom on a regular and consistent basis is arguably one of the most important tasks of a principal. Therefore, performance reviews of teachers and support staff need to be built into the culture of the school. Teachers in turn should expect that their performance reviews will affirm best practices and encourage new areas of growth and professional development.

But what about the school board? Do they ever receive an assessment? How is board performance measured? Is there such a thing as a report card or performance review for school boards or individual school board members?

  • What if the following guiding questions shaped board assessment in our Christian schools?
  • How can board assessment encourage better school governance?
  • How can board assessment foster continuous learning among board members?
  • How can board assessment shape and improve the board’s leadership and decision-making abilities?
  • What types of board assessment strategies are available?

In a recent STRIVE webinar on Board Evaluations, facilitators Kikkert and McPherson shared reasons boards gave for not conducting evaluations. They included such things as: 1) don’t have enough time, 2) don’t see the value, 3) don’t know how, and 4) don’t need to; we are good enough.

The webinar went on to explore some underlying reasons why board assessments are not done.

1. Unconscious avoidance

Board assessment must not be seen as judgment; it must be seen as an opportunity for growth. Assessments create an opportunity for boards to stop doing the things they are not doing well and start doing the things they should be doing.

2. Doubting if a board assessment adds value to the board

Without assessment, boards create the possibility of losing quality board members. If issues are not addressed properly, some board members will suffer silently and eventually withdraw and leave. In the absence of evaluation data (information) boards will merely speculate as to what the real issues are. Proper board evaluations confirm the issues, allowing boards to take action steps to address them.

A newly elected school board member conveyed to me her surprise that little concern was expressed by her board colleagues when one member violated the board policy regarding confidentiality and another spoke adamantly on an issue in which he was in an obvious conflict of interest. What should she do? She went on to share her uneasy feeling about how the school board conducted much of its business, but as a rookie board member, wondered how strongly she should vocalize her discontent. Our conversation ended with a discussion about the need to initiate board evaluations.

A soon-to-retire board chair realized that during his two terms the school board had never clarified expectations of board members nor discussed board effectiveness. Although the board evaluated the principal’s performance periodically, the board did not model what they expected of others. Regrettably, board members often don’t know what is really being asked of them.

“A recent survey revealed that 83% of participating organizations didn’t have written descriptions of what is expected of board members. Without clear expectations, board members don’t know what excellence looks like, and they don’t have a clue whether they are contributing effectively. Without clarity of direction and a sense of achievement, few board members are equipped or motivated to work hard for the organization.” The board chair concluded that perhaps it was time for their school board to evaluate their own effectiveness, and hoped to introduce his board to the concept of board evaluations in the remaining months of his term.

Board evaluations aren’t just a fad; when results are properly debriefed they enable boards to rise to greater intentionality and effectiveness.”

What Can You Do?

1. If your board doesn’t currently conduct a self-evaluation, introduce the idea at your next board meeting.

2. Get board agreement on which type of board evaluation they are willing to engage in: paper-based or electronic; collated internally or externally by a third party such as SCSBC; evaluation of the meeting, the chair, individual directors, or the board as a whole; evaluation input by whom – self or peers?

3. Decide who will facilitate a conversation that moves the survey results from observation to an action plan for continuous board improvement. After all, that is the real purpose.

4. Plan to revisit the action plan regularly. This reinforces your commitment to change, and helps to create a culture of excellence on the board.

The real value of a board evaluation comes from comparing perceptions and agreeing on an action plan to continuously improve the board’s effectiveness. Many school boards that have built evaluation into their board culture now conduct annual evaluations. “Sizing up your performance as a board enables the board to measure progress against the past and continually focuses on areas for growth. At the same time, board evaluations demonstrate to staff and parents that you expect everyone in your school to focus on personal and organizational growth.”

When is the best time to do a board evaluation? Consensus is just prior to the spring general meeting. Being able to report on a recent board evaluation sends a powerful message to all employees, parents and the entire membership. A spring board evaluation allows retiring board members to still contribute and also creates an expectation among new board members to continue the practice of board evaluations.

The Apostle Paul said that when people “measure themselves with themselves they are not wise,” (II Cor. 10: 12b). How well is your school board governing? It’s wise for boards to use some external evaluation tools and ask someone else. Christian school governance is of such importance that boards ought not to become smug or complacent. Consistent with the practise of assessing all students and employees to do their very best, our school boards also need to commit themselves to regular board evaluations.

Does your school board receive a regular report card? I hope so!

by Henry Contant, SCSBC Executive Director

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