Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Governance: School Boards and Superintendents

June 15, 2010, 2:00 p.m.
[For BP disaster see, "Uncanny Prediction of BP Disaster & Response," June 10, 2010; "BP's Commercial: Shame on Media," June 9; "Big Oil: Calling Shots, Corrupting Government," May 26, 2010; "Obama As Finger-Pointer-In-Chief," May 18, 2010; "Big Oil + Big Corruption = Big Mess," May 10, 2010; "P&L: Public Loss From Private Profit," May 3, 2010.]

Praise of Plugge and Reflections on Governance
(bought to you by FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com*)

The Gazette had a nice editorial about ICCSD's departing Superintendent Lane Plugge this morning. There are some excerpts and a link at the bottom of this blog entry. I wrote and posted my own ode to Debbie and Lane last Christmas Eve, "The Plugge Era: 1999-2010," December 24, 2009, so you can read it there if you care to, rather than my repeating the sentiments again here.

But this was one of those mornings when two sufficiently related items hit my desk at the same time to warrant a blog comment. (Actually one hit my kitchen porch and the other was an email that crept quietly upon my computer screen.)

So you can understand the relationship between the editorial and the email, let me set the stage with a quote from my ode to Lane, linked above:

I remain convinced that any school board that would properly do its job, expressing its goals and governance wishes with clarity, would find that Lane would be doing his best to give the Board whatever it said it wanted -- within the bounds of federal, state, and local law and regulations. Requiring a superintendent to perform the board's job as well as his own is as unfair as it is inappropriate.
Earlier last year I had written about what I perceived as governance problems between the Iowa City City Council and its City Manager. "River City's Problem: Council-Manager Governance; The Necessity of Governance Theory and Practice," April 18, 2009.

As you'll see if you check it out, ICCSD School Board President Patti Fields put in a comment there about "the Carver model" of governance (saying she had found it a "barrier"), and others put in comments as well.

One, from "John Barleykorn," included the sentence, "You don't need to have a specific model, you just need clearly defined roles and expectations" -- a sentiment with which I agree and have often expressed. (I put in a comment myself on that blog entry: "I do not, and need not, make a case for Carver. [T]here are alternatives. The only alternative I find unacceptable is no governance model, policy or rules. That's true chaos . . ..")

Like Board President Fields (whom I like and respect), others in Iowa City also have, as I perceive it, "thrown the baby (clearly defined Board-Superintendent roles and expectations) out with the bathwater (the John Carver governance model)."

And so it was that an email from the State of Washington brightened my day. It was from Rick Maloney, someone I do not know, but who obviously shares the approach that I (and "John Barleykorn") take to board-CEO relations and allocation of responsibilities. It is reproduced here with his permission.

I stumbled across your writing about governance on the internet while researching for a presentation to a Western Washington University superintendent certification cohort on the subject of school boards.

I very much enjoyed the ideas that you shared with your fellow school board members in 1998, then was pleased to find that your board subsequently transitioned to the Carver model. Our board did exactly the same during 2001-2003, also without the assistance of a high-priced consultant, mostly by thoroughly reading and applying the principles in Carver's books. We did attend a training session as a board-superintendent team in 2002, but then accomplished the policy development and 'launch' (and 7 years, so far, of operation and maintenance of the model) by ourselves. I keep up my learning by presenting on the model and writing on related topics.

As for the WWU superintendent candidates, I plan to give them, as potential future manipulators of school boards, a sense of 'there is a better way to govern' (that boards really do have their own role, and that administrators don't necessarily know what that role is) without trying to detach them completely from reality. I have a visceral reaction to people like Doug Eadie and Paul Houston who teach about the "care and feeding" of boards. Of course the reality is that if boards drop the ball and go into reactive rather than proactive mode, it is incumbent on the superintendent to lead not only the district but also its board of directors. But I want to give them a feel for the appropriate role that a board CAN take if it leads, and delegates to the superintendent the authority to manage the district.

I'm attaching an article that I recently wrote for the American School Board Journal on treating board work as a professional calling. A friend and I have put together a website, sharing what we have learned about policy governance with other boards here in Washington State. http://www.policygov.com.

-- Rick Maloney, University Place School District #83
[Photo credit: www.policygov.com] I always find it reassuring to discover that other school districts have taken the governance issues seriously, and even followed the same process with it that our Board did when I was there.

When working with the government in Kazakhstan some years ago, since my ideas seemed to be more highly regarded there than in Iowa City, I came up with a hypothesis of explanation for the disparity.The theory was that the respect accorded one's expertise varies with the square of the distance from one's home. Thus, since Kazakhstan was about as far from Iowa as one could get without leaving our planet, I should prepare myself for reentry to North America, and then Iowa City.

I am hoping that the same theory will apply to Rick Maloney. At home, his school board chooses to misspell his last name and leave him out of the group picture of the Board. If the theory holds, given that University Place is 1882 miles from Iowa City, that should make his advice at least 3.5 million times more respected in Iowa City than in his school district (and than mine is in my school district).

Clearly, his suggestions will be accorded at least far more respect than my own. And, with luck, his District's Policy Governance Policies, and his Web site, will be sufficiently well regarded in Iowa City to prompt a reconsideration of the value of governance principles for Iowa, and Iowa City, institutions as well.

It would be the greatest gift we could give our new Superintendent, Steve Murley, when he starts to work next month, to save him the impossible assignment of having to function as both superintendent and school board. (See Murley's comment on Board's need for "clear governance system" in "School Boards, Superintendents, Contracts & Candor," April 28, 2010.)

April 28, 2

And finally, here are some excerpts from The Gazette's editorial about Lane Plugge:

Plugge kept focus on students

Iowa City school district Superintendent Lane Plugge dealt with just about everything in his 11 years on the job. . . .

And through it all, he kept a cool head and a firm hand on the wheel.

'He's a person of integrity,' Jim Pedersen, director of human resources for the school district, told us this week. 'He's got a tremendous work ethic. . . ."

Not all Plugge's decisions were without controversy, but there's little question that Plugge always remembered his primary responsibility was to the district's students.

Plugge announced last winter that he'd be leaving the district to take a position as chief administrator of the Green Hills Area Education Agency near Council Bluffs. His last day with the Iowa City school district is June 30.

He served the district during a period of rapid growth - during his tenure, school enrollment increased by more than 1,200 students - and all the challenges that entails. . . .

In more than a decade with Iowa City Schools, he developed a community reputation as being an accessible administrator who listened to public opinion - even if his decisions didn't always please everyone. . . .

Pedersen said it was Plugge's interpersonal skills that anchored his success: He was approachable, articulate and didn't flaunt his authority. . . .

'Anytime you can keep that continuity, that consistency, that shared vision [for the 11 years Plugge was in Iowa City] - if you can keep that person in a leadership role, it's good for the organization,' he said.

Lane Plugge was good for Iowa City schools and students.
Editorial, "Plugge Kept Focus on Students," The Gazette, June 15, 2010, p. 4.

We wish Debbie and Lane well as they settle, still in Iowa but closer to their Nebraska home. It has been my pleasure to know and work with them.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source -- even if I have to embed it myself.
-- Nicholas Johnson
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