Published Online: January 14, 1998

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The relationship between a superintendent and a school board needs far more care and feeding than it often gets.

A new report on school governance produced by two nonprofit educational service organizations offers some helpful hints. The study, "Getting There from Here," looks at why some boards and their superintendents work well together as they strive for higher achievement, while others founder.

Researchers for the New England School Development Council in Marlborough, Mass., interviewed 132 educators, parents, and community-minded people in 10 districts around the country. Some of the districts were characterized by collaborative relations, others by confusion and discord. In addition, the researchers consulted experts' "best thinking" on the subject.

The authors--Richard H. Goodman, Luann Fulbright, and William G. Zimmerman Jr.--contend that while building a better team at the top is not enough in itself to improve student achievement, it has a substantial effect on staff members, curriculum, and the attitudes of teachers, parents, and students.

The researchers outline six strategies for collaboration: having a strong overall plan for the district, getting good people on the board and into the top administrative job, ensuring that they know their roles, requiring regular training and evaluation, adopting operating procedures that help people stick to their roles, and persuading others to support the board and the superintendent.

About districts that serve as models for good leadership, the authors say: "The boards function as true policy boards, and they support their superintendents as chief executive officers. The superintendents, in turn, coach and support their boards ... ."

The report, co-produced by the council and the Educational Research Service in Arlington, Va., is full of examples of good practices and policies from around the country. Among its recommendations are electing board members to serve at large instead of representing wards or subdistricts; restricting business meetings to one a month; and forming a task force in each state to look at superintendent certification, open-meetings laws, and legislation that could lead to improved governance.

Copies of the report are available for $18 each, plus the greater of $3.50 or 10 percent of the total sale for postage and handling, from the Educational Research Service, 2000 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201; (800) 791-9309.

--BESS KELLER bkeller@epe.org

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