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Testing a Unique Approach to Board Standing Committees:  the Rockford Public Schools Story

February 15, 2021 0 Comments

        Ehren Jarrett

As Board president Ken Scrivano, vice president Tim Rollins, and superintendent Ehren Jarrett explain in the video interview we recorded last week, one of the key outcomes of the Rockford (Illinois) Public Schools’ High-Impact Governing Initiative was to put an updated Board standing committee structure in place.  This significant step on the district’s ongoing governance improvement journey emerged from a daylong Board-Cabinet retreat at which the benefits of a modern committee structure were thoroughly discussed.  The most obvious benefit?  Well-designed committees would do the indispensable preparation for board business meetings that leads to well-made governing     decisions and judgments. “Well-designed” committees, participants agreed, should be aligned with the three broad streams of Board decisions and judgments:  planning; performance monitoring; and external relations.

Retreat participants recognized that much of the committees’ preparation should involve separating the wheat from the chaff so that board meetings could home in on the critical decision elements.  This pre-work would directly lead to productive board meetings that might otherwise continue into the wee hours, wasting precious time and energy.

Retreat participants  also recognized that well-designed committees would:

  • Turn board members into real nuts and bolts experts in the complex field of K-12 governance and satisfied owners of governance decisions and judgements through in-depth participation in committee deliberations.
  • Turn committee chairs into allies and change champions for the superintendent. Showcasing the chairs in public board meetings would provide them with non-monetary compensation in the form of public recognition, and having committee chairs present all briefings and action recommendations in full board meetings would turn the chairs into superintendent change champions and spear carriers so that the superintendent wouldn’t have to expend finite and precious psychic capital convincing the board to act.
  • Provide a forum for the superintendent and his top administrators to collaborate with committee members in developing processes for engaging board members in key governing functions such as strategic planning and performance monitoring.
  • And help keep board members out of the weeds of micro-management. Well-designed standing committees would keep their members focused at a high level on true governing issues, rather than on managerial and administrative details best dealt with by the superintendent and administrative staff.

As Ken, Tim, and Ehren explain in our video interview, after detailed discussion in a follow-up work session after the retreat, Board and Cabinet members  made a creative decision to launch the new committees in a monthly Board committee-of-the-whole format, consisting of three standing committee segments, each chaired by a different Board member.  According to Ken, Tim and Ehren, this creative adaptation is working quite well, generating the benefits of well-designed committees while building trust among Board members.  Will the Rockford Board of Education eventually move to full-fledged standing committees that meet separately?  Perhaps, but Ken, Tim and Ehren believe there’s no compelling reason to rush this decision.  I’ll check back in a few months and update you at this blog.

 

Doug Eadie