Orleans Parish School Board discusses micromanagement at Houston training

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.”

Friday live blog

Thursday evening live blog

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About Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams stays on top of the city's loosely organized collection of public schools, with a special emphasis on charter schools. In 2011 she was recognized by the Press Club of New Orleans for her reporting on charter school transparency and governance. In 2012, she was part of a team that received a National Edward R. Murrow Award for their work following a New Orleans family's recovery after Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Edna Karr Secondary School in Algiers, and she obtained her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. She can be reached at (504) 575-8191.

  • nickelndime

    The last superintendent of the OPSB was not fired. He resigned. So, the statement by Nolan Marshall that OPSB superintendents are fired every 3-4 years is not valid. Cade was the most vocal member in the group retreat (you got that right, Jessica), but she is also “the one most likely to disappear” in the heat of battle (she went AWOL last month) and left Thomas to bear the sole brunt of the criticism brought about by his questions about finances [i.e., money to be spent by the OPSB to obtain tax credits (this time, Wheatley)]. Bloom has been responsible for block voting – I will give him one for admitting that. Now, what will he do about it? CRSS’s advice to drop committee meetings – huge time suck (seriously???)

  • nickelndime

    When particular individuals of particular nonprofits conduct retreats, seminars, etc., and the topic of discussion is micromanagement (like that’s a bad thing and how to avoid it), this means that the “target group” (in this case, the OPSB) is handling its business, thank you very much. That’s a good thing, Ira.