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Effective Board and Superintendent Collaboration

In the following report, Hanover Research reviews literature on effective strategies for establishing strong relations between school boards and their superintendents, as well as general best practices for school board governance.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND KEY FINDINGS

INTRODUCTION

In the following report, Hanover Research presents a comprehensive account of literature addressing the components of effective superintendent and school board relationships. The report also highlights effective strategies for board governance, focusing on school boards’ impact on student achievement, practices specific to urban districts, and techniques for overcoming political barriers.

KEY FINDINGS

The following points summarize the key findings found within the body of the report:

  • A strong, effective relationship between superintendents and school board members hinges upon clear definitions of each body’s duties and responsibilities. Confusion over roles, most often due to board members overstepping their boundaries by meddling in administrative affairs, can cause inefficiency and conflict. Successful districts require board members to focus on long‐term strategic planning and superintendents to focus on successfully implementing policy.
  • Successful board/superintendent collaboration requires frequent, diplomatic communication both in and out of official settings. To ensure the timely fulfillment of strategic plans, school boards should conduct frequent, informal superintendent “check‐ups,” as well as extensive formal evaluations. The board should recognize these meetings as more than simply a time to critique the superintendent, and should use the opportunity to self‐evaluate and review district performance data.
  • Board members often enter their  terms  with  limited  knowledge  of  the  exact nature of the superintendent’s administrative role, leading to role confusion and preconceived notions of a superintendent’s abilities.  This  initial  period  of unfamiliarity can cause tension between board members and superintendents, but can  be avoided through extensive board member onboarding  and  continuous professional development.
  • While underperforming urban  school  district  boards  and  superintendents  face many of the same problems that other districts encounter, the extensive nature of reform required in these districts poses several leadership challenges. The length of  urban district reform initiatives extends beyond usual board member terms. Urban districts can ensure policy longevity despite board turnover by building strong community relations and resident buy‐in. By convincing  community  leaders  to support a reform, a district can help ensure that community members will continue to elect pro‐reform board members.
  • Politics at the board and superintendent level plague all school districts. When school boards fail to act as a single voice and specific members become mavericks or “lone rangers” who appeal to special interest factions rather than the public at large, student achievement suffers. In such a system, superintendents are forced to dilute their potentially successful policy recommendations in order to gain acceptance by a board with questionable intentions. Thus, the literature suggests that board members should use student achievement as the primary barometer for policy decisions.

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