10-11 Get Your Message Out

10-11 Get Your Message Out

New KASS, KSBA collaboration another way to strengthen public education’s voice

New KASS, KSBA collaboration another way to strengthen public education’s voice By Brad Hughes
KSBA Member Support Services Director

Despite having quite a few years in this job under my belt, this call from the reporter caught me off guard.

“Can a superintendent who believes the school board is wrong overrule a board vote?”

Uh, well, you see, the superintendent is employed by the board, to advise it but also to carry out its decisions.

“What state laws prohibit the superintendent from refusing to implement a board decision?”

Like I said, the superintendent is the chief administrator, but he or she works for the board, and can’t just pick and choose which decisions to enact.  Sort of like you as a reporter can’t tell your magazine’s editor to stick a story assignment in his ear.

OK, I didn’t exactly say that last part, word for word.

But to a degree the basis for the reporter’s confusion is a not uncommon reaction voiced frequently by parents and other citizens when the superintendent and the board are on opposite sides of an issue: “Who is right?” and “Why can’t our school leaders agree?”

The reality is that differences of opinion are part of life. And I’ve always believed that board members who speak up when they disagree with the administration – and vice versa – have greater credibility with the public.

Of course, when the board and the superintendent are in agreement and speak out – especially on controversial issues – their unified message is about more than being on the same page; it’s also about working together for a common goal: quality teaching and learning for students.

That’s just one reason why Kentucky school board members and superintendents should be pleased about the recent memorandum of understanding between the boards of directors of KSBA and the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents. Both groups have a solid history of working together on education issues. But the agreement, effective Oct. 1, has potential to strengthen both organizations as well as their advocacy on behalf of students and schools.

A new home, a common family

In simplest terms, KASS Executive Director Wilson Sears is about to set up shop in leased space at the KSBA offices in Frankfort. The agreement calls for office space, technology and support. KASS will employ an administrative assistant to be responsible for conference planning, printing and mailing, invoicing and bookkeeping and the KASS Superintendent Network regional training sessions. The assistant will be aided by KSBA staff on an as-needed basis.

But Sears and KSBA Executive Director Bill Scott see the long-term benefits for the two groups as being much more than the economies of scale for space and equipment.

Sears sees the agreement as enabling KASS to establish “a new identity” for itself.

“We will have our own office in Frankfort. We will have a new administrative assistant on board who will respond immediately to anyone who wants to reach the executive director, which sometimes is very difficult because of the many facets of what I am doing as essentially a one-person staff,” Sears said.

A former superintendent himself, Sears called the partnership “a natural extension of our current working relationship.”

“On a practical level, working out of the same building will naturally lead to more collaboration between our two organizations,” said Scott.

“More importantly, this arrangement sends a powerful message to our respective members that whether it’s at the district or  state level, boards and superintendents are more effective when working together,” he said.

Such collaboration already had impacts on legislative advocacy through the 3KT organization, primarily KSBA, KASS and the Kentucky Association of School Administrators. One impact has been more advocates who can be in more places when legislative committees meet simultaneously. Over the years, countless legislators have urged public education to speak with a united voice on matters coming before the General Assembly. While 3KT doesn’t speak for all the K-12 groups, its success at the Capitol has demonstrated that power of collaboration.

There’s no reason this expanded working relationship between KASS and KSBA can’t find more positives than just dollar savings and easier sit down meetings for Sears and Scott.

The Last Word

One of the things I found interesting when I first joined KSBA was the title of the service called Board Team Development. I came to learn that developing a strong working relationship among the board team members – the employed superintendent and the elected board members – was one of the core foundations of this organization. And rightly so.

Complicated issues often result in assessments with different conclusions. Such differences can’t always be resolved. But effective leaders either find ways to bridge such gaps or they accept the final decision and work to implement the action for the best interests of everyone involved.

From time to time and issue to issue, local school boards and superintendents do and will differ, and so do and will their organizations. But when like-minded representative groups increase their collaborations, their access to each other and their abilities to pool resources, it’s a sign of leaders putting the common interest – in our case, students and learning – front and center.

And that’s a message worth getting out.
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