Reform Governance® in Action is our premier school board training program that is based on the Reform Governance® framework developed by Donald R. McAdams in his book, What School Boards Can Do: Reform Governance for Urban Schools.  This governance framework is built on the belief that school boards must be committed to effective governance practices and reform-minded leadership if student achievement is to improve and achievement gaps eliminated.

Interested school board/superintendent teams can select from our extensive list of Reform Governance® topics and case studies.   Training sessions are led by highly-qualified CRSS faculty members, most of whom have extensive school board experience.

Reform Governance Framework

Our Training Topics and Original Case Studies:

Team Building and Collaboration focuses on the critical relationship among board members and between board members and the superintendent.  This session identifies the political pressures that stress these working relationships.  Specific attention is given to the policies and processes by which boards and superintendents carry out their work.  As a result of this training, the board will have tools to both resolve conflict and to create the foundation for a strong working relationship.
Effective board meetings should reflect the board’s commitment to student achievement and improve the public’s perception of the district.  In this session, districts examine their board meeting processes and committee structure and evaluate efficient and effective use of time. Boards will learn to focus on governance and not management.  As a result of the work, boards will draft a board meeting policy designed to increase time spent on student achievement, decrease staff time spent on board meetings, and evaluate the district’s committee structure.
What is effective constituent service?  How can the board deliver constituent service without micromanaging?  What is the board’s role and what is the superintendent’s role?  How can effective constituent service protocols aid in the board’s oversight function?  As a result of this training, the board will be introduced to a model that will satisfy the expectations of the public, support effective management by the superintendent, and improve service to constituent groups.
Boards must ensure that district employees and all of those engaged in district work follow all relevant laws in letter and spirit.  But what is effective management oversight? What are the board’s roles and responsibilities?  And what is the difference between oversight and micromanagement?  As a result of this training, the board will learn an effective management oversight system for ensuring the integrity and performance of major district business systems such as food service, technology, and transportation.
What is the board’s role in budget development and how does it oversee financial operations and ensure that the district’s finances are sound?  Financial oversight is one of the board’s highest priorities.  As a result of this training, the board will understand that its responsibility for budget development centers on the integrity of the budget system, trend analysis of revenue and spending by functional area, formulas for funds allocation, and district priority setting.  Boards will also learn how to oversee financial operations without being pulled into management and how to minimize financial risk by tracking key financial and other indicators.
Core beliefs and commitments are the conceptual starting point for the work of a school board.  Board member beliefs about children and their capacity for learning, the purposes of public education, the school effect, and the performance potential of the school district will drive student achievement.  In this session, the board/superintendent team will develop (or revisit and recommit to) a clear statement of the board’s core beliefs and commitments.
Core beliefs and commitments and a strategic plan are not sufficient for accelerating student achievement; a district needs to articulate its theory of action.  A theory of action is a strategy that drives change in the district that is necessary to improve student performance.  Examples of theories of action include aligned or managed instruction, performance-based empowerment, and charter schools.  As a result of this training, the board/superintendent team will learn about various theories of action and reach consensus on the components of a theory of action for change that is best for their district.
Reform policies are proactive policies to drive change in a district.  They spring from the board’s core beliefs and commitments, are driven by the board’s theory of action for change, and are strategically aligned to support whole-systems change.  As a result of this work, the board/superintendent team will prioritize the district’s reform policies for the coming year and develop work plans for each.
A district data dashboard provides the board with a limited number of key indicators to assess district performance.  In this session, the CRSS faculty member will work with the board/superintendent team to develop the policy and select the indicators for a data dashboard.  As a result of this session, the district will have consensus on the critical indicators to track and report to the public in the areas of student achievement, district operations, and stakeholder/community satisfaction.
Many school districts adopt goals to drive improvements in student achievement and operational efficiency.  In this session, we will explore how goal-setting fits into Reform Governance® and how board-approved goals can effectively drive measurable improvements in the district’s performance.
Superintendent evaluations are one of the most powerful executive tools for school boards to drive performance for their district.  Evaluations are key to enhancing the superintendent’s leadership within the district and strengthening the board/superintendent relationship. The work of this session is to establish a process for designing a superintendent evaluation that focuses on results and aligns with key indicators in the data dashboard and other goals set by the board for the superintendent.
Few jobs that a school board faces will be more challenging—or critical—than hiring a superintendent. We will explore what school boards need to do before even starting the search and what they need to know to select the right superintendent for their leadership team. We also will explore how the superintendent’s contract should be negotiated to ensure maximum gains in the district’s student achievement.
A strong board self-evaluation instrument will ensure that the board remains focused on district priorities and continuous improvement.  In this training, the board will develop an evaluation process and tool that links the board’s performance metrics with those of the superintendent and the district’s data dashboard.
Reform Governance® means more than the practice of good governance and policy leadership for change.  Every constituent group has a role to play in helping the board/superintendent team improve student performance.  The governance team must establish open communication with the community and lead them to support change and planning for the future.  Building civic capacity is crucial.  In this session, the board/superintendent team will learn to build public support for the board’s major work.

Effective school reform is not short-term.  Nor is it the work of one board/superintendent team.  It is the sustainable work of a succession of changing teams, all committed to improved student achievement and the ongoing monitoring of district performance.  Boards working to sustain progress should respond to data by asking how policies, management systems, and leadership need to be adjusted or changed for continuous improvement.  And they should use data to guide development of new reform policies.  The goal of this session is to develop a process to manage the succession of board members, superintendents, and key staff.  Boards also will develop an annual sustainability calendar and plan to monitor the district’s reform progress.

Consider this:  it’s not reform if it costs more!  Inspired by Cage-Busting Leadership by Frederick Hess, this module prepares you with the knowledge, skills, and attitude it takes to be an agent for positive change.  Resist the temptation to be discouraged by regulations and past practice; there are many battles that can be won right now.   Knowing which battles to fight, and how and when to fight is the key.  Also critical:  Knowing how to improve teaching and learning with the resources you have. 

Like it or not, the education world is changing.  As governance team members, we need to understand this changing landscape filled with new ideas as well as old ideas modified for the digital age.  Are these changes truly transformational or are they just more educational fads?  And why do we even need to change?  Why can’t we just teach kids like we were taught?  We examine these questions and showcase some of the more innovative learning approaches of our time.

Case Studies

“Peeling the Onion: Getting to the Heart of Student Achievement in Aldine”
Case Overview:
This case describes a district with sustained board and superintendent leadership that is sharply focused on improving student achievement, which in the early 1990s lagged well behind other Houston-area districts. Spurred on by the Texas accountability system and inspired by the Baldrige Quality model implemented in the neighboring Brazosport district, Aldine began building a philosophy—and theory of action—to improve student performance by managing the instructional process and using data and data analysis to make critical decisions. The district’s unrelenting focus on instruction resulted in significant improvements in overall achievement and successfully reduced achievement gaps among Black, White, and Hispanic students.
“Raising the Bar: High Standards and High Stakes in Gwinnett County Public Schools”
Case Overview:
This case chronicles the Gwinnett County school board’s effort to develop a new curriculum along with Gateway tests at selected grade levels to measure academic mastery and end social promotion These reform efforts, developed years before passage of the federal No Child Left Behind law, initially draw little public attention. But as implementation draws nearer and fears escalate that many students may fail, the board members face angry protests and pressure to abandon their plan. The superintendent reassures the board and community members that an appeals process and a series of safety nets and interventions will be in place to help struggling students. Culminating a series of policy decisions, the board unanimously votes to approve the assessment program and adopt a set of phased-in cut scores. The case ends with reflections on the district’s accomplishments as well as the challenges ahead.
“The Grand Experiment: Philadelphia Tries a New Way to Reform Its Schools”
Case Overview:
This case spans the years 2000-2011, the era of the School Reform Commission, a small, powerful board, appointed by the governor and mayor, and the superintendencies of two strong personalities, Paul Vallas and Arlene Ackerman. It is the dramatic story of a city and state responding to unacceptable urban school performance by trying to create a new district design. Philadelphia is the first major urban district to implement at scale the Diverse Provider Model, the mix of traditional public schools with district charter schools and schools contracted out to for-profit educational management organizations. Design and implementation issues are huge, compounded by financial crises, conflicts with powerful unions, board/superintendent power struggles, and the interests of powerful elected officials.