The Cotati Rohnert Park Unified School District Board conducted two, three-hour special meetings on September 8 and 9. The purpose was to conduct a Governance Workshop. The meetings were open to the public in accordance with the Brown Act, although no members of the public attended either of the two sessions. The goal of this article is to provide a broad overview of these sessions for the public.
The workshop was facilitated by Luan Burman Rivera. She is the Governance Educator and Consultant for the California School Board Association (CSBA). She is a former teacher, school and community volunteer and served on the Ramona Unified School District board for 16 years. Bringing over 30 years of experience in public education, she was a past president of the CSBA. She now travels the state bringing her expertise to workshops on “Foundations of Effective Governance” and other topics.
According to the workbook used during the workshop, “Effective governance is an ongoing process that requires understanding and continual, respectful, open, honest conversations.” It contained research and information on effective governance centered around what were called the “four pillars of an effective team.” They were: “Unity of Purpose,” “Understanding Roles and Responsibilities,” “Positive Governance Culture (Norms),” and Supportive Structures and Processes (Protocols).”
In many ways the workshop was a traditional team building event with a focus on a team of six, that being the Superintendent of the District and the five elected board members. Typical workshop elements such as icebreaker exercise, worksheet, practical exercises, and facilitated discussion were present. The principles of good governance were discussed, and they were:
The desired outcome of the workshop is the development of a governance handbook for guidance and use by the board. In response to the open-ended question of “What do you want to accomplish together as a team for this district” a wide variety of responses were shared between the participants. Some examples were to provide leadership and citizen oversite of the district; to support all students and ensure each have the resources and support to reach their potential including a focus on English Language Learners; improving achievement and support for underrepresented students and their families, giving them a voice; and providing for social, emotional support of students and staff after years of trauma from fires and the pandemic.
Roles and responsibilities were another discussion topic. The governance team, which is the board, has a strategic or visionary role. This is providing the “big picture” for the district and as needed facilitate “transformational change.” They also hold the district accountable for achieving the desired results. The tactical role is taken on by the Superintendent and her administrative team. Serving a bridge between the board and the staff. It is they that do the planning, ensure alignment, work on logistics and resources. The operational role is executed by the teachers and other staff who do the actual work. They carry out the plans to achieve the intended results. “All three of these roles have to be aligned and integrated. None of the roles can be successful without the others.”
It was stressed, that no board trustee has the individual power or authority to make decisions on their own. Only the board, as a whole, can set policy, provide direction or guidance, approve or disapprove recommended plans, resources, or reports. While they can be the “eyes and ears” of the community on concerns and desires, they can not act independently of the team or the administration and staff.
In establishing their working norms a few key items stood out. The first and foremost was to remember their focus is on the best interest of their students. Others were to respect differences, not to dismiss or devalue anyone; to offer their ideas and resources and look for common ground; and to stay focused on the goals and avoid getting sidetracked. The focus is to work together toward the future, while learning from the past. Once completed, the Board’s Governance Handbook will be presented for signature and adoption at a future meeting as well as published on the district’s website for the public to view.