A Citizen's Guide to Policy Governance
The Essex/Westford School board seeks to focus the District on significant improvement in student achievement outcomes, closure of achievement gaps, while creating strong connections between the Board and the Essex/Westford community.
To do this, the Board adopted a new way of working (i.e. "the policy governance model"). This model is being used in a growing number of school districts, cities, and non-profit organizations throughout Vermont and the nation.
The Board’s work essentially becomes that of continuously evaluating the work of the superintendent in relation to the broad outcomes it has specified, and continuously engaging the community.
What is the work of the Board?
Its responsibilities are specified by Vermont State Statute and generally involve engaging the community and establishing a vision for the district; creating policies; hiring and evaluating the Superintendent, developing a budget for community approval, ensuring financial stability, monitoring the district’s evolving work towards the vision, and ensuring ethical work. The Board’s governance style, or way of working, guides its approach to meetings and processes which carry out Board responsibilities.
Outcomes / Ends policies:
Articulating a vision. The Board governs by focusing on what should be the results, or ends, of the district’s work (e.g. what students should know, understand, and be able to do by the time they graduate). The Ends statement is both a commitment to the community about the goals of the district, as well as a direction to the superintendent regarding the Board's expectation of desired results. The particular methods for accomplishing those ends are left to the educational professionals in the district.
Governance Process policies:
Establishing Board process. The Board works intentionally, creating policies that describe how it operates, including a commitment to monitor its own performance of its duties. Governance process policies create clarity about the Board’s role in the district.
Board/Superintendent Relationship policies:
Creating accountability. The Board creates policies about what work it delegates to the superintendent and how the superintendent is accountable for all District work.
Setting limits on the superintendent. The Board establishes policies which limit what the superintendent can and cannot do in order to achieve the district’s expected results (Note: ends are determined by the Board). Within this framework, the superintendent has the authority to choose any reasonable method to meet the desired ends.
Policies required by the state or federal government:
Both state and federal law mandate policies that address particular issues. The district complies with all pertinent state and federal laws and maintains all required policies.
Board Member Policies:
All Board members are bound to ethical and lawful conduct:
- Code of Conduct
- Vermont and Federal Law
- Protecting confidential EWSD data
- Respect for the individual, etc.
What difference will this make?
The shift to policy governance will have four noticeable changes:
- The number of Board committees will be reduced because the whole Board takes responsibility for monitoring the district’s work (i.e. specified ends).
- The number of community forums will increase, as the Board seeks to engage the community on topics that are pertinent in strategic planning and development. The community plays an important role in advising the board about its values and expectations.
- Board meetings will shift to focus on reviewing more detailed monitoring reports, revealing how the district is working toward ends. In addition, some monitoring reports will address how the Board itself evaluates its own work.
- Monitoring reports provide the board with data; the board will decide whether or not the district’s actions are in compliance (based upon) a reasonable interpretation of the policy. Evaluating monitoring reports keeps the Board’s focus on whether the district is achieving specified ends. If the monitoring report does not convince the Board that the district is in compliance with a given policy then the board will direct the superintendent to revise and resubmit the report. Regular monitoring allows the Board to decide whether policies need revision and or the degree of achieved progress toward District ends.
Drafted by Al Bombardier, EWSD Board Member, January 2022