Business Practices

Sharing the Decision-Making Process

Using committees effectively, district leaders can extend communication and participation beyond the school.

Transforming schools is a difficult task to say the least. It takes leadership and guidance to bring together the many stakeholders in a district and to give them the opportunity to share in the decision-making process.

Committees are a helpful way to promote collaboration. They distribute leadership throughout the organization, allow for open communication among stakeholders and give the administration greater input to drive best practices.

Using a committee format, district leaders can extend opportunities beyond the classrooms. This approach is especially beneficial when more self-actualized teachers can participate in and coordinate the direction of finances, curriculum, policies and technology.

Before committees can be formed, the district leadership must develop a “to-do” list to guide the establishment of expectations and goals. Setting realistic goals that align with best practices is important. However, leaders must be careful not to set goals that will overwhelm the system.

For example, expecting educators to align curriculum with the Common Core requires exemplary coordination and extensive time. The district’s climate and culture need time to shift practices to ensure meaningful change that will withstand the test of time. Richard DuFour, an expert in professional learning communities, suggests that districts promote collaborative structures that improve and strengthen the climate and culture of learning for all.

Collaboration in District 308

Oswego Community Unit School District 308 (Oswego, Ill.) serves nearly 18,000 students in 22 separate buildings — each with a unique climate and culture. The district implemented a committee model to extend opportunities to stakeholders to provide input on the district’s future direction.

The administration created four advisory committees:

  • Finance and Operations,
  • Teaching and Learning,
  • Policy and Procedure and
  • Facilities and Growth.

All committees are an extension of the superintendent and advise the superintendent and the board of education. Superintendent Wendt shares, “Board advisory committees align with board goals and objectives. Beyond a strategic plan, board advisory committees engage stakeholders and employees at a level few school districts view as important. I am very proud that our board of education recognized the importance of community and employee engagement. People have a voice and that voice will be heard. In our case, the board and district administration want that voice to be proactive, positive and influential with the bottom line: improve academic achievement.”

The Finance and Operations Advisory Committee (FOAC), for example, has been working toward greater transparency in financial practices. Transparency requires committee members to better understand the district policies, which set expectations for the district administration.

Likewise, the district administration can create procedures that reinforce policies and build confidence in the board of education’s governing and the administration’s management practices.

For example, in a stressed economy, parents may have difficulty meeting their financial obligations to the school, as some may be facing unemployment or other financial hardships. The FOAC reviewed the policies governing the administration of student fee payments and found that collections were decreasing substantially. The committee was concerned about the diminishing fee collections and asked the administration to investigate further.

Past practice required parents to pay fees in a lump sum at the beginning of the school year. Upon investigation, the administration recognized that a payment plan would benefit parents and might reduce non-payments.

With input from the committee, the district is introducing payment plans whereby parents can agree to make payments over the course of the school year. Payment plans allow parents to budget their daily, monthly and yearly expenses accordingly. The parents recognized the district’s sensitivity to their needs and the FOAC’s consultation has been validated. The credibility of the process is meaningful when ideas are put into action.

Credibility, relationships and trust

Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn.” The committee structure in District 308 provides opportunities for teachers, parents, board members, the administration and the community to help decide the path the district takes in the future.

This article is excerpted with permission from the July/August 2013 issue of School Business Affairs, published by the Association of School Business Officials International.

This article originally appeared in the School Planning & Management October 2013 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Paul A. S. O'Malley, Ed.D., is assistant superintendent for business services for Oswego Community Unit School District 308 in Illinois. He can be reach at [email protected].

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