Nine Ways to Reduce or Avoid Superintendent/Board Friction

Posted by Matt Berringer on February 16, 2016

James Capolupo has a decade of experience as a superintendent building strong relationships with school board members. The former superintendent of the Springfield School District in Pennsylvania knows that the relationship between the district’s leader and its school board can directly impact its students.

For example, Capolupo said it once took him two years to undo the damage he caused by making a negative comment about a principal to his board. He eventually promoted that principal, but it was a long, uphill road to convincing his board that the principal really was an asset to the district.

“We’ve got to be very careful,” Capolupo told a room full of superintendents and school board members during a PASAPSBA School Leadership Conference in October. “If it slips out, it’s the gospel … you don’t want to say anything, superintendents, to your board that you’re going to regret.”

Capolupo offers his advice on how to avoid this pitfall - and several others - that can cause friction between superintendents and board members:

  1. Careless correspondence.
    As Capolupo learned the hard way, never let something slip out unless you truly mean it. Once it is said in a professional setting, it is extremely hard to un-say it.
  2. Just between us.
    Gossip has no place in the educational workplace. Once a piece of information is shared, everyone in the space should have an opportunity to know it and to give input. No conversation is ever “off the record.”
  3. Lessons from Paul Revere.
    Superintendents and school boards are both the instruments of communication and the deliverer of the message. They have a responsibility to communicate all necessary information not just to certain individuals or groups, but to ALL stakeholders.
  4. Overselling.
    Superintendents shouldn’t have to oversell their requests. Make the ask, back it up with reason, wait for objections and answer questions. If you don’t get what you asked for — and if it’s for the kids’ benefit — you didn’t present it correctly. Regroup and try again.
  5. Getting too close.
    As the superintendent, you should never get too close with your staff and board members. You might be in the position at some point in which you hired someone — and/or you truly like the person — but they’re not a right fit for the organization. Superintendents have the responsibility to fire those who may not work out, so you need remain free of personal conflicts of interest.
  6. Hiring for time’s sake.
    It’s typical to feel the time crunch to hire qualified personnel, especially toward the end of summer as the weeks wind down. But rushing to hire and settle for employees that aren’t quite the right fit is poor management. You should allow yourself the time to find the absolute best person for the job every single time.
  7. Hammering the screw.
    When there is a problem, it’s easy to grab the wrong tool in the heat of the moment. Sure, sometimes you need the hammer. Other times, though, something softer will get the job done more appropriately and efficiently. Carefully consider the tools you’re using each and every time.
  8. Shadowing the sun.
    Leaders are often out in the limelight. You share the joys, but you also need to share the criticisms. Take responsibility for the things that go wrong — even if you didn’t make the decisions — because ultimately, those decisions are your responsibility.
  9. Neglecting your health.
    Find work-life balance. Being a superintendent is a stressful, time-consuming job. It’s important to make time to exercise, eat regular meals, and spend time with your family in order to feel relaxed and up to the demands of the role. The more rested and ready you are, the better you’ll perform, and the better off your district and your students will be.

Interested in learning more tips? Check out this related post: Nine Ways Superintendents Can Build Strong School Board Relationships

Topics: Superintendents, Springfield School District, Best Practices, EdTech News and Info, Pennsylvania