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Superintendent Gillian Chapman: Off To a Great Start in Teton County School District #1

November 19, 2015 0 Comments
TCSD Superintendent Gillian Chapman

TCSD Superintendent Gillian Chapman

Both seasoned and new superintendents, along with K-12 executives who are CEO-aspirants, have a lot to learn from my podcast interview with Gillian Chapman, the new superintendent of Teton County School District #1 in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Early in my consulting career, I learned that if a superintendent – or any chief executive for that matter – gets off on the wrong foot with her board, it can be extremely difficult to undo the damage and salvage the board-superintendent working relationship.  I’m pleased to report that Gillian Chapman is off to a great start in building a close, positive, and productive partnership with the TCSD Board, and I don’t doubt for a minute that her relationship with the Board will withstand the inevitable stresses and strains involved in leading a school district in these changing, challenging times.

So what is Gillian doing right? First, like every truly board-savvy superintendent I’ve worked with over the years, Gillian has brought the right attitude to building a solid working relationship with her new board.  As she explains in the interview, she’s steered clear of a fatal trap that I’ve seen do in many otherwise extremely bright and highly capable new chief executives:  obsessing about the danger of board “micro-management” and focusing on protecting executive turf from board incursions.  At the opposite pole from negative turf protection, Gillian arrived in Jackson Hole seeing her new board as both a precious asset and an essential partner in leading this rapidly growing district.

Gillian also understands that she can’t afford to take her relationship with her new board for granted. She is keenly aware that board-superintendent relationships are so complex and prone to deteriorate so quickly that she, as her district’s CEO, must pay meticulous attention to relationship maintenance.  With this CEO responsibility in mind, Gillian interviewed each TCSD Board member individually well before taking the helm, and drew on these interviews in developing – and sharing with her new Board – a 100-day “entry plan.”  And she has also agreed with her Board to hold quarterly team building retreats as a vehicle for relationship tweaking.

Another key element of Gillian’s relationship maintenance strategy is open, frequent communication with her new Board, including a weekly Board update to ensure that TCSD Board members are always in the know and never caught off guard.

After you’ve listened to this interview with Gillian Chapman, I hope you will share your experience in building and maintaining the board-superintendent partnership by posting your comments. And keep in mind that true stories reporting failure are just as instructive as the emotionally more attractive reports of success.

Doug Eadie

President & CEO of Doug Eadie & Company, Inc., Doug Eadie assists superintendents in building rock-solid partnerships with their school boards.
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