The Value of School Boards

    HALIFAX, March 17 /CNW/ - As the Superintendent of Schools in the
Annapolis Valley Regional School Board, I know I am biased on the issue of the
value of school boards. Our Board has a history of working well both among its
members and with the staff of the region. We have a group of people on the
Board who selflessly give of their time and energy to try to improve the life
chances of students through educational opportunities. The meager stipend that
they receive in no way makes up for the hours they put in, or the tough
decisions that they have to make, on such important issues as setting the
budget (and thereby staffing levels) or defining the goals for the
organization through the annual plan.
    Our Board members are elected by the people of the region, or appointed
in the case of the Mi'kmaq representative, and they bring a sense of
legitimacy to the decisions that are made because they remain connected with
the school communities in their areas. As a lifelong educator, I value the lay
opinions of our Board members as they bring a sense of the community at large
to the decision-making table. Boards also set policies that define and set
parameters for the work of the staff. As the superintendent, I am directly
responsible to an elected board for running the school system, and I have to
be accountable for the results that are achieved. I am also directly
responsible to students and must be held to a high standard. I feel extremely
accountable because the Board and I are in continuous contact and work closely
as a board/superintendent team for the students of the region. Just as we
would not want a provincial civil service without the oversight of an elected
government, neither would we want a school system without a governing body on
a long-term basis.
    Our elected Board helps to provide the checks and balances in the system
and the accountability that is so important. I believe, however, that Board
members should face some mandatory training on the governance role of boards,
and the responsibilities of individual board members within a governance
model, when they become board members and should be aware of this requirement
before they are elected. I also believe that individual board members must be
accountable for their behaviour. I think some changes to the Education Act
might help boards (and the Minister if necessary) to deal with individual
board members who are not fulfilling their responsibilities or behaving in a
professional manner. I also think some clearer definition of the governance
role of boards would help to clarify expectations about what boards should and
should not do. Governance and oversight are the roles of boards and their
activities should manifest themselves in those areas. Extending duties into
management destroys the checks and balances in the system and hurts the
important governance responsibilities of boards.
    I am an ardent supporter of elected school boards, but we must have good
people running who want to make a positive difference in the lives of
children. The following quote from an academic look at the role of school
boards sums up what is necessary, "How board/superintendent teams understand
and carry out their roles can make the difference between dysfunctional
leadership teams incapable of leading change and highly effective leadership
teams that build districtwide capacity to ensure every student succeeds".

    Norman Dray, PhD
    Superintendent of Schools,
    Annapolis Valley Regional School Board

For further information:

For further information: Sharon Findlay-MacPhee, Communications Manager,
Nova Scotia School Boards Association, (902) 491-2856 (phone)

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