On Thursday and Friday, the Orleans Parish School Board participated in a training session run by the Center for Reform of School Systems. The training in Houston was funded by the education advocacy group Stand for Children; taxpayers paid for travel, lodging and food.
The training focused on team-building and the proper roles of board and committee meetings.
The New Orleans Coalition on Open Governance live-streamed the retreat; The Lens live-blogged it. (The live blogs are posted below.)
During a Thursday night dinner, board members heard from Center for Reform of School Systems founder Don McAdams. His messages were clear: Successful boards work together. They ensure that all decisions are made for the children they serve. They are bold in their decisions. They don’t micromanage.
“You don’t have to be friends. But what you have to do is respect each other,” said McAdams, who served on the Houston Independent School District Board of Education for 12 years. He also discussed the importance of elected boards, which are accountable to the public in a way that appointed boards aren’t. (See Thursday night’s live blog below for more from his speech.)
Critics have cited the board’s temporary block of a key tax credit deal as an example of micromanagement. Some criticized the board’s decision to nullify a deputy superintendent’s contract and revise the contract for interim superintendent Stan Smith.
On Friday, Cathy Mincberg, CEO of the Center for Reform of School Systems, and board trainer Betty Burney led the conversation. Mincberg cautioned against micromanagement. The board’s power, she said, lies in its ability to hold others – such as the superintendent and its charter schools — accountable.
“What you do when you try to manage is, you give away your power,” she said.
Burney then presented hypothetical situations and asked members to determine whether boards were micromanaging. (For more, view Friday’s live blog below.)
When asked what the board would take away from the training, Cynthia Cade echoed McAdams’ call for bold decision-making. And board president Ira Thomas said the board should continue to consider the difference between governance and management.
Nolan Marshall Jr. responded that members would have to “come together” to craft a vision for academic achievement. And then they must hire a superintendent. He echoed that sentiment later in the day when the board discussed the failings of other districts.
Members were shown video of a divisive 2007 Collier County, Fla., Board of Education meeting. After a 10-hour long meeting, the board voted to nullify the contract of its third superintendent in less than two years, a decision that was heavily criticized by educators and other community members.
Marshall said situations like that are caused by a lack of vision on the board. “You don’t have a focus, you don’t look at the big picture, and all of that is a result of not having the big picture, those goals in mind.”