5 Ways to Improve Collaboration Between the School Board and Superintendent

Lena Eisenstein
6 min read
The school board and superintendent play significant parts in the performance of the local school district. These two bodies do not achieve success through rogue members, but through the collective work accomplished by these joint representatives of the community.

Many studies
have examined the connection between superintendents and school boards, and have found that a positive relationship between these two parties ultimately determines the success of the district.

However, there are some boards and superintendents who may struggle to work together and this dysfunction may be felt (directly or indirectly) by administrators, staff, and students. Collaboration between the school board and superintendent is vital for district and student achievement. There are five key ways to improve the partnership between these two parties.

Improving Collaboration Between the School Board and the Superintendent

  1. Clarify roles and responsibilities.

Conflict between school boards and superintendents can occur when the two parties infringe on each other's responsibilities; this can reduce the effectiveness of the district and hinder strategic planning. This may occur when superintendents concentrate too heavily on policy or when boards reach too far into administrative tasks.

Clearly defining the roles, duties, expectations, and responsibilities for superintendents and board members is imperative to district success. School board responsibilities may include, but are not limited to:
  • Establishing the vision and goals for the school district
  • Hiring and evaluating the superintendent
  • Staying abreast of policies, laws, and regulations that may impact the work of the district
  • Serving as advocates and representatives of the community
Superintendents are empowered by the board to carry out administrative tasks to accomplish the goals and vision set forth by the board to support student achievement and district success.

Outlining these responsibilities encourages collaboration between the school board and superintendent and supports these separate, but integrated, bodies in their specific roles to work toward accomplishing the goals of the district.
  1. Develop and implement a clear method for communication.

Research conducted on the relationship between superintendents and boards consistently confirms that effective communication is a significant factor in successful governance.

However, research also shows that communication between school boards and superintendents is often lacking. The American Association of School Administrators conducted a five-year study showing that most superintendents (62 percent) 'spend three hours or less per week in direct communication with board members.'

The Aldine Independent School District, recipient of the 2009 Board Prize for Urban Education, credits part of its success as a district to well-defined communication procedures between the school board and superintendent. The district's 'Board Procedure Manual,' is a reference document regarding communication policies, including a guide for how frequently contact should be made and how the board may ask for information from the superintendent.

Establishing a plan for communication, whether it be through a weekly update or another method, helps to keep board members informed on issues pertinent to decision making responsibilities. It is imperative to research your state's sunshine laws to ensure that your board and superintendent do not violate these laws in attempts to improve communication. With a board portal, superintendents may share documents or updates with board members and the public (if required by your state's open meetings laws). This not only keeps board members abreast of what is happening within the district, but may prepare them for effective decision making.
  1. Utilize superintendent evaluations.

Research shows that thoughtful, intentional, and apolitical evaluations of superintendents are vital to collaboration between the school board and superintendent. While many school boards understand the importance of assessing the performance of the superintendent, there is still some misunderstanding regarding best practices and effective processes for carrying out evaluations.

Ultimately, successful superintendent evaluations are the end result of painstaking and thorough planning from the board.

Leveraging the right technology, board members and superintendents may access documents or materials pertinent to assessment. Superintendents are looking for evaluation processes that provide useful feedback. Having the ability to reference evaluation materials promotes better practices and can lead to a more effective and efficient assessment of the superintendent's performance.
  1. Practice modern governance.

Modern governance is the practice of empowering leaders to fuel good governance in the digital age with the right tools, processes and insights ' greatly impacting districts, schools, and students. Modern governance goes beyond the boardroom to engage and equip board members and administrators. The right technology can support modern governance by providing a streamlined platform for board members and superintendents to improve effectiveness.

With technology designed to meet the needs of public education boards, the work performed by the board can be seamless and easily accessible from anywhere. School boards have the opportunity to leverage technological tools to better capitalize on any opportunities for effective and strategic decision making. A continuous flow of shareable information and materials allows boards and superintendents to remain 'in the know' and perform their best work for the district and community.

School districts are evolving and school boards must do the same. Technology supports collaboration between the school board and superintendent, which then enables leaders to be more organized, efficient, effective and better positioned to carry out the mission and vision of the district.
  1. Establish and build trust and respect between the board and superintendent.

A lack of respect and trust can swiftly destroy the hard work being done by leadership team members. Negative behaviors by board members or superintendents can drastically reduce the opportunity for collaboration, ruining the opportunity for good governance.

Building trust and respect between board members and the superintendent is essential to accomplishing work toward meeting district goals and supporting student achievement. Leveraging the right technology, proper board training, clear communication, and knowledge of best practices (responsibilities, policies, regulations, etc.) all support these leaders in cultivating a team rooted in respect, trust, and transparency.

Collaborative Technology

Meeting agendas, past meeting minutes, budgets, and strategic plans are all vital to the collaboration between the school board and superintendent. Leveraging board software, like Community by Diligent, school districts are able to ensure that these essential documents are easily accessible by board members, administrators, and the public.

Boards and administrators should have the capability of retrieving these documents from any device or location, securely. Utilizing Community, school boards and superintendents can easily access these materials from any device with internet access, anytime and anywhere. This level of accessibility allows administrators and board members to share materials to make educated and timely decisions for the betterment of the district.

Community's platform promotes transparency and trust through the availability of pertinent information, for the board, administrators, and the public. Beyond meeting information, boards and administrators can easily access policies, training documents, evaluation materials, and manuals to remain informed of procedures and practices.

Districts, including students, staff, and citizens, suffer when boards and superintendents fail to work together effectively. Dysfunctional leadership can distract from the work that must be accomplished to better local public education.

Teamwork requires effort and intentionality, so leadership teams must be purposeful in how they work together. Successful boards and superintendents recognize that their positive partnership results in greater achievement for their students and district.