Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for local office address ahead of this fall’s local elections primary. Based on the input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for candidates running for the Shawnee Mission Board of Education.
Today, we publish the candidates’ responses to item two:
What’s your view of the board of education’s relationship to the superintendent and administration? How much accountability and oversight should the board be exercising over district staff?
School District Member 1 (SM North area)
Sara Goodburn (incumbent)
The role of the board is to govern the school district and to hire, evaluate and work collaboratively with the superintendent of schools towards achieving the goals outlined in the strategic plan. Effective school board members establish a professional and productive relationship with the superintendent and with their colleagues on the board. They understand and appreciate their role as the leadership team for the district and work together to improve the school district. The school board hires the superintendent and delegates administrative authority to him/her for the day-to-day operation of the school district, including supervision and evaluation of all district staff. Board members are responsible for the general oversight of monitoring student outcomes and district program offerings and their effectiveness, which are presented as reports to the board. The strategic plan maps out the priorities of the present and future achievement goals and programs. These are used as a basis for periodic evaluation of their only employee, the superintendent.
The Board doesn’t have an active hand in the HR department, but does approve all contracts for cabinet level administrators. The role of the Board is somewhat indirect as regards most administrators.
As far as oversight over staff is concerned, the answer is mixed. The Board has a formal role in accepting the termination of employees, for example, but management of employees isn’t delegated to the School Board. The expectation is that the board hires the superintendent and approves or rejects contracts for cabinet level administrators, who hire other administrators, principals, and teachers. I have no intention of micromanaging teachers or other employees of the district.
With regard to cabinet level administrators, my expectation is for a professional and mutually respectful partnership to rationally address the challenges that face the district, with the intent to create positive change and lasting solutions.
I believe that Board members must take an active role in administration oversight. I prefer a hands-on management style and personalized face-to-face leadership. If elected, administrators and constituents can expect that I will be actively engaging with the administration to support SMSD students. I will also be actively inquiring about what we can do differently to make the district better and more inclusive for all students. Often times this will mean finding additional supports or resources, and making sure that projects get the attention they need. Other times, this may mean attending a job fair for the district to demonstrate Board support for hiring minority candidates, for example. I expect innovative solutions and thorough planning from SMSD administrators. I want to hear detailed answers to the question, “based on your expertise, what can I do as a Board member to help you make students’ lives better?”
The Board and superintendent are two different entities, and the Board provides oversight of the Superintendent. Regardless of how much a Board likes or respects any given Superintendent, we have to remember that Superintendents and their administrations come and go, but the district will go on after they’re gone. Board members are stewards of the district, not stewards of the administration.
The board is responsible for clearly identifying and communicating the district’s values and goals, creating a budget directly supporting identified values and goals, and hiring a superintendent who will serve the educational community to achieve those goals. After the board has defined and communicated priorities and responsibilities, the superintendent is entrusted to lead other administrators as they work collaboratively to strengthen the systems of support necessary to meet district goals. Ideally, the board should be holding the superintendent accountable for the oversight of district staff. In the event the board finds itself in the position of overseeing staff, the superintendent is either not performing, or is being prevented from performing a critical job responsibility.
School District Member 3 (SM South area)
One of the Board’s core functions as defined by Kansas Statute is to oversee and evaluate the performance of the Superintendent. In previous Board positions that I have held, we have utilized regularly scheduled performance appraisals that serve as a vehicle to quantify / qualify how successful the senior executive has been over a measured period of time. I see this process being no different in evaluating Shawnee Mission School District’s Superintendent. The Board of Education is responsible for managing this process and taking appropriate actions based on the results of this evaluation.
This is not the case with SMSD administration or staff. Though the Board of Education has a responsibility to all employees within the Shawnee Mission School District, district staff is generally held accountable by the Superintendent. As a matter of proper protocol, Board Members should address matters to district staff through the Superintendent.
In the Board’s governance capacity, Board Members work collaboratively with the superintendent and district staff to manage resources and infrastructure within the Shawnee Mission School District. Once again, it is the superintendent’s responsibility to manage departmental workflows and ensure that we are moving strategically in the direction that has been agreed to by this senior leadership team.
Oversight and accountability of the superintendent is one of the central responsibilities of the Board of Education. The Superintendent is responsible for implementing the vision and mission put forth by the school board. I believe we are fortunate to have a superintendent who shares our community’s vision, which we recently articulated through our strategic plan.
To effectively oversee and evaluate the Superintendent, the School Board must have access to objective data about district performance, budget information, and input from multiple sources, including parents, teachers, and students. My years of working in public policy have trained me to take in many sources of information and formulate a “big picture” perspective, which will allow me to ask smart questions of the superintendent and administration and challenge the status quo when it is appropriate. I believe that School Board Members are elected to advance the public’s priorities and that means oversight and accountability of the superintendent.
The most important way that the superintendent implements the board’s vision is through the budget. I intend to carefully assess whether our budget is adequately supporting our classroom teachers, improving behavioral health resources, increasing access to early education, and advancing educational equity.
School District Member 5 (SM Northwest area)
The role of the Board of Education is oversight of the Superintendent. It is the Superintendent’s job to manage and work with administration. The Board can provide feedback to the Superintendent about issues or concerns in order to make sure ALL students are set up for success.
Additionally, the Board can and should ask thoughtful questions of the Superintendent. As a former journalist, I am not afraid to ask those questions. It concerns me we are at an impasse with teacher negotiations. I believe the Board needs to create a budget to reflect our priorities. It is difficult to retain, attract and hire teachers when they do not feel appreciated or paid fairly. I am the only Northwest area candidate endorsed by SMSD teachers (SM NEA) and I will work hard to make sure that teachers voices are heard and represented fairly, and we work towards better prioritization of the budget.
The superintendent works for the school board, who is accountable to the parents and patrons of the District. The board works with the superintendent, but decides what efforts and recommendations of the superintendent are best for students, educators, staff, schools based on research and data, with input from all. The superintendent is not a CEO, but part of a collaborative team. The Board should set policies and ensure that they are followed, but not micromanage district staff.
Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item three:
Relations between teachers and the administration have been strained at times in recent years, with secondary teachers raising concerns about their six-section teaching schedules, and the NEA-Shawnee Mission dissatisfied with contract negotiations. What’s your view of the current status of administration-teacher relations in SMSD? What, if anything, do you think the district should be doing to improve them?