James Capolupo has worked at virtually every level of education, from high school band director to elementary principal to university associate dean. The job he considers to be among the most important, though, was his decade-long stint as superintendent of the Springfield School District in Pennsylvania.
“There’s nothing more important than the two of you, the two roles you play, working together,” Capolupo told a room full of superintendents and school board members during a PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference in October
A strong working relationship between a superintendent and the school board is vital to the success of a district, and Capolupo offered up suggestions for ways to pave the way to a good partnership.
Here are Capolupo’s nine ways superintendents can guarantee a good relationship with their school board:
1. Be Honest
Balance the need to tell it like it is while also being sensitive about what and to whom you are speaking. A superintendent’s words carry heavy weight in the eyes of their staff and school board members. Be honest, but speak with care.
2. Keep Summaries Short
Summarize requests to the board in crisp language that hits quickly on what you want, why you want it, the benefits, the cost and a succinct timeline for implementation. Many board members don’t come from an education background and have busy professional lives outside of their position on the board. Write the summaries in a way that is easy to digest.
3. Change the Furniture
Once you take over the superintendent’s office, make a few changes that add your personal touch. If you have the budget for new furniture, buy a couple of new statement pieces. If the budget is tight, rearrange the pre-existing furniture to set a new tone and send the message that positive change is coming.
4. Go Last
Superintendents should never be first. You should listen to your staff, your cabinet, and your board. Speak last to indicate you have heard all the input and also to make it clear that the board trusts you to have the final say.
5. Keep Stakeholders Informed
Good news can be shared at any time. Bad news, on the other hand, must be shared early and often. Never shield anything from the board. Keeping the board (and the community) informed is a crucial part the superintendent’s responsibilities.
6. Praise Often
Budgets may be tight, but praise is free. Hand out praise in a genuine way. That means being specific, not general. Acknowledge specific actions and accomplishments in a public forum whenever possible.
7. Communicate Regularly
Create regular communication habits between you and the school board members. This can be as easy as a weekly email that hits on bullet points of information from your schools, upcoming events, and other items of note. Stay in touch in a way that is consistent, frequent, and familiar.
8. Be Genuine
This isn’t a job for phonies. You need to start and stay genuine. Show your human side by admitting mistakes, recognizing when things aren’t going the right way, and asking for help as needed.
9. Trust Your Team
You don’t need to plan and implement every detail on your own. Make sure that you are delegating effectively. Trust the people you’ve hired to manage the areas they oversee but also make sure that you don’t burn your administrators and staff out — check in on progress and to see where they might need assistance.
What do you think? Are there other suggestions you would make? Let us know in the comments!