Governance and Oversight

Lena Eisenstein
5 min read

Governance and Oversight

Chances are that if you are a school board member, you have heard these two terms many times in trainings, at board meetings and in reading about your job as trustee. Governance and oversight of management are the two primary areas of school board work. As board members, we tend to default to oversight primarily. That's probably due to the fact that it is comfortable; it is quantifiable; it is familiar. Most of us serve in managerial roles in some aspect of our lives'we may be in a management position at work, and we probably manage our homes, children, budget, or some combination of these. While our personal budgets may not involve multi-million-dollar amounts, the concepts are similar to those conducted daily in school districts.

Oversight of management involves tasks that we are familiar with in our own lives'fiduciary tasks. Were the bills paid? Are the buses running? Do we have enough teachers to fill all classroom assignments? Were available positions posted? These are fairly easy tasks. Sometimes the difficulty comes in the form of confronting someone we like when the fiduciary responsibilities aren't met. Sometimes it's in the form of asking questions when data isn't presented to us. However, these are still fairly simple tasks. This is why trustees tend to focus on our oversight role as board members.

Focusing primarily on oversight of management leaves a large portion of the responsibilities of a school board member undone. The governance role requires thinking, acting and even writing in ways that are unfamiliar to most people in their typical day-to-day activities. However, the governance role is the role in which board members can flex their leadership muscle'demonstrating the leadership for which they were elected by their friends and neighbors. While this type of thinking may be uncommon for most people, it is neither difficult nor foreign when we apply familiar concepts. Governance work is some of the most important work a trustee can do. This is where a trustee has the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy for the schoolchildren of the district and the community.

Texas Legal Requirements

The Texas Education Code requires that boards set comprehensive district goals. Some districts embrace this task, setting aside time to develop goals as a team. Others simply use the goals from the District Improvement Plan. Some are developed by the superintendent and then shared with the board. And some don't do it at all. All of the latter miss the opportunity that lies in the goal-setting process. More than just following the law, developing district goals is the initial point of governance for boards. It is the time for board members to be the civic leaders that they were elected to be. It is a golden opportunity for communication between the superintendent and the board to find out what the team really cares about.

Governance, by definition, is to exert a guiding influence over the way an organization functions. Trustees determine the direction or focus of a school district. In a high-functioning district, the focus is always on students and student performance with the goal of constantly increasing the academic attainment of the students. This is not to say the bills don't need to be paid or that there doesn't need to be a discussion of extracurricular activities for the students, but all of those concerns will be a moot point if student performance devolves to the point that the state has to intervene.

Lone Star Governance

In Texas, a new instrument has been developed at the Texas Education Agency called Lone Star Governance. The intention of Lone Star Governance is to provide a continuous improvement model for governing teams (Boards in collaboration with their Superintendents) that choose to intensively focus on one primary objective: improving student outcomes. Lone Star Governance accomplishes this intense focus through tailored execution of the five points of the Texas Framework for School Board Development: Vision, Accountability, Structure, Unity and Advocacy. In addition to Lone Star's singular focus on improving student outcomes, it provides a system for governing the secondary, but vital, legal and fiscal responsibilities of the Board. The Lone Star Governance implementation integrity instrument is developed to track progress on goals set by the board and as a self-evaluative instrument. Implementation of the Lone Star Governance framework begins with a workshop to encourage conversations around governance behaviors that improve student outcomes, drawing from governance-related research.

Any board that wants to improve its focus on improving student outcomes may implement Lone Star Governance. Key to the work is supporting Boards in setting and monitoring student outcome goals. It also involves quarterly board self-evaluation that looks at results/changes over time, as well as looking at how the Board chose to spend its time during meetings.

What's Changed

While the Texas Education Code has always required boards to set goals (TEC Section 11.1511 b. 2-4), Lone Star Governance is more specific in its requirements regarding the goals having a student achievement focus (TEC Sec. 1515). Using an intensive training model to have conversations, LSG is a continuous improvement plan for boards focused on improving student outcomes. Boards then chart progress toward those goals with the superintendent on a systematic basis. LSG uses the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-focused, Timebound) goal design to determine quantitative outcomes. Lone Star Governance challenges the organization to require adult behavior change in order to effect student performance change.

BoardDocs Can Help

At the end of the day, everyone in the boardroom is there for one purpose'to make a difference for the schoolchildren. To get there, you may have to wade through faculty members, tax rates, and extracurricular stipends. Those things will always be there and it's easy to get caught up in all the parts and pieces that make up a district. An effective board makes sure all of the decisions and discussions center around what's best for all of the kids.

The goal feature in BoardDocs Pro included in the library uses customizable sharing, automatic archiving and user-defined categories to allow boards to easily track and monitor progress toward goals. This tool will create a transparent portal for easy board/superintendent communication in a visual, easy-to-read format. Readily accessible information on key performance indicators creates better-informed trustees focused on improved student outcomes. Learn more about how BoardDocs can help.