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Sharpening a District’s Leadership Model

Choosing the right governance model will lead to higher student achievement. (Second of a Two-Part Series)


To create an integrated board self-assessment and superintendent evaluation process, you must develop a school leadership model by adopting a coherent governance model. At the same time, you must also develop goals at the appropriate level that ensure quality governance of a school system. This article explores various governance models, develops a systemwide approach to improving governance, and defines the various goal levels, all while encouraging the development of an atmosphere aimed at improving student learning and becoming more accountable to the public. Governance models prescribe the school board and superintendent roles, as well as define the board self-assessment and superintendent evaluation instruments that create more accountability to the public. Most public schools are governed by one of two governance structures: the Traditional Governance model or the Policy Governance model.

The governance model helps determine the kind of board self-assessment and superintendent evaluation instruments that you will use.

Traditional School Board Governance Model

The Traditional Governance model is the most popular. This model can be explained by using the face of a clock. Everything that runs above 9:00 and 3:00 is in the policy domain that the school board must deal with. On the other hand, everything that runs below 9:00 and 3:00 is in the administrative domain that falls under the control of the superintendent.

The points on the face of a clock represent the following:

12:00—Goals: The districtwide goals that address student outcomes.

2:00—Policies: General or global policy statements adopted by the school board to guide the professional staff in delivering the vision and goals set by the board at 12:00.


4:00—Regulations and procedures: Made by the professional staff, the means for achieving the 12:00 goals.

6:00—Operations: Actual operations of the school district; teachers teaching, custodians cleaning, bus drivers driving, principals supervising, and so on.

8:00—Operations and process reports: Reports on the 6:00 operations that tell the professional staff whether the policies and/or regulations are being carried out as planned.

10:00—Evaluations and product reports: Reports that tell the board whether 12:00 goals have been achieved. Periodically the board reviews its policies and modifies them as needed.

The gray, shaded area in the clock chart represents the difference in various school district governance cultures. Some school district boards go below the line, while some school administrators go above the line.

The Policy Governance Model

John Carver, a scholar in organizational governance, is the author of the Policy Governance model. Carver created the model in 1997 for his book Boards That Make a Difference. The Policy Governance model has grown in popularity among nonprofit organizations, some corporate bodies, and a growing number of school districts nationwide.

Carver has called his model a “revolution in boardroom behavior and in the governance-management relationship.” Carver says his model is a radical departure from traditional governance. For example, unlike the traditional governance model, Carver’s model has specific policies that define the roles and responsibilities of the CEO (superintendent) and the board. Moreover, the Policy Governance model—through specific policy categories—defines the board and superintendent values by specific policies. These values include such things as:

--The board must create a relationship with the superintendent that is empowering and safe, and


--The board speaks with one voice or not at all.

The model has very few policies—between 30 and 40—and is the focus of the school board.

The Policy Governance model is ordinarily presented with four categories of board policies:

1. Governance process policies. These policies delineate ways in which the board will govern.

2. Board-superintendent relations policies. These policies delineate the relationship between the school board members and the superintendent.

3. Executive limitation policies. These policies consist of means or district operational issues, which set up boundaries for the superintendent and the means within which the superintendent will work toward achieving the school district’s ends policies.

4. Ends policies. These are broad global policies of what students should know and be able to do and what districts are to achieve through performance goals.

The board’s policy governance processes and procedures include reviewing, developing and modifying policies annually, monitoring ends and executive limitations policies through reports from the superintendent to the board, and holding meetings with stakeholders in order to ask: How are we doing? What are your values and needs?

Board Checks Itself

Under Carver’s Policy Governance model, the board sets up a process in which each board member takes a turn at assessing the work of the board at each meeting. The “Carver Cop” determines whether board members followed the principles of the model, discussed board governance issues during the meeting, and did not mettle in the superintendent’s “means,” known as district operational issues.

The school board also conducts an annual self-assessment, usually in March. School boards use different methods to self-assess their performance in governance process and board-superintendent relations. Under the Policy Governance model, an efficient method for performing board self-assessment is to have board members anonymously fill out a survey ranking the board’s performance of each governance process policy on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 being poor and 5 being excellent) and encouraging comments. Some boards use a Web site called Zoomerang, which is free if you have 10 or fewer participants. Only board members assess the governance process. The same process is used in board-superintendent relations, except the superintendent helps assess the policies, since the topic relates to the relationship between the superintendent and the school board.

Evaluating the Superintendent

Once the board self-assessment process is completed, it is logical to evaluate the superintendent. Some states require evaluating the superintendent at least once annually. However, in the Policy Governance model there is an ongoing evaluation process in monitoring reports from the superintendent.

The superintendent evaluation in the Policy Governance model is different from the superintendent evaluation under the traditional governance model. The traditional governance model evaluates the superintendent in the middle of the school year and at a final summative evaluation. However, in the Policy Governance model, the superintendent is evaluated throughout the year. This is accomplished by requiring the superintendent to give the board 20-30 monitoring reports—periodic reports that update the board on the superintendent’s implementation of the policies—regarding different board policies. The board must evaluate each monitoring report as to whether the report indicates that the superintendent is “in compliance,” “in compliance, with specific exceptions” or “in noncompliance.”

"Integrating a superintendent evaluation process with a school board self-assessment has helped build a stronger team." -Rick Schulte, superintendent, Oak Harbor (Wash.) School District

The annual summative evaluation is a review of all the school board’s Ends and Executive Limitation monitoring reports that include constraining executive authority and establishing the practical, ethical and legal boundaries within which all staff activity and decision making will take place and be monitored. Some examples include assessing the superintendent’s performance during the preceding year; sharing strengths and weaknesses, which leads to dialogue; and reviewing the general state of the organization from many vantage points and then asking: What have we accomplished this school year? What will be the school district’s focus in the next school year?

The board then considers the employment relationship with the superintendent. The contract with the superintendent can vary. In many states, the superintendent may be offered a multi-year contract. Some school districts have a rolling three-year contract, which involves considering whether to extend the contract for an additional year, hold the extension to a future date based upon job improvements, or end the contractual relationship.

Completion of an integrated superintendent evaluation and school board selfassessment process has a number of benefits for the school district leadership team. “Integrating a superintendent evaluation process with a school board self-assessment has helped us build a stronger team around a common set of expectations,” according to Rick Schulte, superintendent of the Oak Harbor (Wash.) School District. “The criteria, indicators, and rating scales have opened up and structured communication about governance issues, roles, and expectations.”

Board and Superintendent Goals

The capstone to the integrated board selfassessment, superintendent evaluation, and goal-setting process is a three-tiered level of goal development. It provides accountability tools that are needed to answer this question: How do you know that what you say you are doing is actually being accomplished?

The three levels of goals are:

1. Global Level Goals

These are district goals and strategic planning goals that are more global in nature. The goals are accomplished over a number of years as part of the implementation of the Effective Schools Plan of Work, which is a school reform model based on instruction and curriculum research focusing on a clearly aligned, articulated, comprehensive instructional program that aims to improve student achievement.

2. Board Level Goals

These are goals that flow from the board self-assessment process. Working with appropriate constituencies can ensure continued district fiscal stability while at the same time addressing long-term technology needs.

3. Superintendent-District Level Goals

These are superintendent operational goals. Often they flow from the global level goals that have an annual benchmark that must be met for the long-term goal.

Laser Focus on District Issues

Undergoing a goal development process allows the board and superintendent to get on the same page. As Kathryn Lerner, board member of the Snoqualmie Valley (Wash.) School District, concludes: “I believe the three-tiered approach for goal development takes the process of setting goals and clarifies who is responsible for seeing that these goals are accomplished. Global goals should be shared between the board and the superintendent—this is the end statement that defines where we all want to be. Board and district goals, then, break down the global goals into smaller milestones and action items that must be accomplished in order to achieve the global goal.”

In sum, when the school board and superintendent integrate the board self-assessment, superintendent evaluation, and goal development processes, this pulls together the thinking of the leadership team in setting its priorities, while establishing a road map for success.

To read part one of our series, Turning the Tables on Assessment, go to

Chuck Namit is president of Strategem LLC and a member of the North Thurston (Wash.) Public Schools’ Board of Directors. He has trained district leaders for 28 years.