27J looks at implementing policy governance model

By Gene Sears
Posted 12/9/08

BRIGHTON — Judging by the positive response thus far, the School District 27J board of education is headed down the road toward a major shift in management style.     And all …

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27J looks at implementing policy governance model


BRIGHTON — Judging by the positive response thus far, the School District 27J board of education is headed down the road toward a major shift in management style.

    And all indications support an upcoming change to a form of management known as policy governance.

    Simple in concept, the policy governance model is a process that a governing body, such as a board of education, uses to continually monitor itself and the district through policies that define the community’s core values and expectations, establishing parameters that the school staff will operate within to reach their goals.

    It is supposed to streamline meetings and make them shorter. It is also intended to open up a line of communication on the board through open evaluations of members goals, policies, themselves, and the school superintendent. Using the policy governance model, the board sets up a framework that the superintendent and staff are free to operate within, provided that they remain within the constraints set by the board. In theory, this allows the board the freedom to focus on the goals of the district, while reducing or eliminating micromanagement.

    As a continual process, management via policy governance never ends, instead circling back on itself for ongoing refinements and adjustment.  A process that policy governance advocate Jim Hyatt, of Charnery Associates, likened to painting the Golden Gate Bridge, a 365-day task that begins again where it started, exactly one year later, in perpetuity.

    Hyatt, a graduate of policy governance developer John and Miriam Carver’s Policy Governance Academy, is working with the district to determine the suitability of the process for 27J.  Hyatt has been working with the 27J board for aboutthree months before taking the program primetime during a regular session of the school board Nov. 11.

    27J Board member Valerie Espinoza-Martinez detailed the process thus far:  “We started looking at policy governance during a weekend retreat Aug. 23 and 24, and another session Oct. 4. Those meeting were only to discuss policy governance. We also had a meeting on a Tuesday, about a month ago.”

    While the majority of the board apparently shares Hyatt’s enthusiasm for the management technique, Espinoza-Martinez is markedly more cautious, reserving praise for the plan until it proves its mettle. Of particular concern to Espinosa–Martinez is what she sees as an overly optimistic view of the program thus far. The discussions to this point have revolved only around the positives associated with the program, disregarding negative implications.

    “We haven’t been exposed to any policy governance cons, only pros,” Espinosa-Martinez said.      “So I’m not really sure if it is for us. I’m not even sure that we can adopt policy governance due to state statutes. There are certain parts of the decision-making process that you can’t delegate, and we have not looked at those yet.”

    A common complaint among those opposed to policy governance is the potential for the program to become either mired in setting too detailed of policies, or not detailed enough to oversee district employees in accordance with the board’s intent.  

    “And that is a concern,” Espinosa-Martinez added. “Are we giving too much power to the superintendent? So far, it’s just been too general.”

    Another fear is the potential clash of egos associated with elected officials expected to reach a consensus, seemingly less of an issue in the corporate world, the birthplace of policy governance and the largest proving ground thus far, by far. According to a William J. Price article published in School Administrator, the magazine of the American Association of School Administrators, the clash of identities is exacerbated by the very nature of politics.

    “In this political arena, organizational structures and governance roles are often the outcome of hotly contested political campaigns between several individuals interested in controlling the organization and gaining more personal influence. The more highly politicized and single issue-oriented the school board election is, the more difficult it is to create a governance culture in which the school board operates within a carefully defined and crafted set of role expectations, while maximizing the role of the CEO. School boards that operate in such a highly charged political environment are not rational decision-making organizations, but rather are forums in which contests are played out between individuals who wish to control the organization to advance their interests.”

    In this context, Price said “convincing boards to operate within a governance model that advances the organization’s interests rather than their own is difficult.

Contact MetroWest Staff Writer Gene Sears at 303-659-2522 Ext.217, or e-mail gsears@metrowestnewspapers.com. Alternately, you can send comments to Gene or join the community conversation on this topic via his blog, fortlupton.blogspot.com.



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