Guest column by Dr. Andy Underwood, superintendent, Belton School District – Mo.As new school leaders begin July 1, there are many new aspects of their lives that will change, the least being a new mailing address. I think back to lessons I have learned from other colleagues in my first years and realize how many of those ideas have stayed with me even today.
Be a leader. Be a visionary. Be a champion for children!
- Have an open-door policy and mean it. Share office hours if needed.
- Be a good listener, and remember, listening doesn’t always mean taking action.
- Take time to investigate concerns and give expected times for a follow-up conversation.
- Be a learner and observer, especially in the first year.
- Research strategic plans. Talk to staff. Review notes from your interview to follow up on the Board of Education’s suggestions.
- Learn the Board of Education’s preferred mode of communication and recognize it may not be the same for every Board member.
- Communicate regularly with Board members; perhaps even pick a specific day they will be certain to hear from you. There will be other communications, but they will always hear from you on Wednesday, for example.
- Remind yourself: Anything sent in a text or email can end up on the front page of a newspaper or on social media.
- History repeats itself. Look back at the last three to four years of Board agendas. Utilize these as a guide to help you understand how the district has operated, and they may give you ideas to expedite Board meetings, such as adding a consent agenda.
- And finally: Do what is best for the kids and be able to explain why you are doing it. The response should not be “because the Board of Education made me do it.”
The Rolla (Mo.) Public Schools are in the midst of a rather atypical research endeavor right now.They conducted research before fashioning a ballot issue, which ended up winning at the polls. They constructed the projects and started the programs specified in the bond issue, and they now are all up and running. But they still wondered, could anything have been better?
Specifically, did the community feel well-informed about the progress of the projects? If not, how could it have been improved? And now having cleared this hurdle, how do you think we’re doing? Are we living up to the goals we set forth in our strategic plan back in 2014 (specifically, the district’s Comprehensive School Improvement Plan, or CSIP)?
So, they engaged Patron Insight to ask those questions via telephone and online research. The results will be available later this month.
“In all the excitement over projects to get done and programs up and running, following a bond issue, it’s easy to assume residents felt connected to the process,” said Dr. Aaron Zalis, superintendent. “We want to find out for certain, so we can continue to improve our performance and our efforts to make that connection.”
For more information about research of this type, contact Ken DeSieghardt, Patron Insight CEO, at (816) 225-0668 or [email protected].
While the number of fires to put out may be down to zero on most summer days, that doesn’t mean an annual office file purge should be your only goal during the upcoming three months or so. Here are some activities to consider that will give you strategic insight for the next school year:
• If you haven’t conducted a communications audit in several years, summer is a great time to launch part one – a review of recent outbound content, by an unbiased third party, to see what it is you are really saying. That way, once the school year begins, you can pick up with part two (reviewing what you want to be saying) and part three (finding out what stakeholders are hearing).
• Planning a potential ballot issue for next spring? Summer is the perfect time to set the research calendar to make certain you hear from a cross-section of registered voters – not just the “frequent flyers” who love you and those who think you have no clue how to run a school district.
• Summer is also a good time to step back and consider ways to engage your community more effectively on a long-term basis. A Citizens Advisory Committee – in person, if you have a population that does actually show up for meetings, or virtual, if even free pizza doesn’t draw a crowd – can be a great audience of idea testers and ambassadors.
Patron Insight can assist with these services and many more that are perfect to start during the summer. We also offer an opportunity – in certain cases – of splitting the fees between the current fiscal year (if yours ends June 30) and the next fiscal year to help limit the impact of the cost. All of these are based on the project and timing. Samples of our work in these areas can be viewed on our website. Interested in more information? Contact Rick Nobles, Patron Insight president, at (913) 484-0920 or [email protected]