Reform Governance in Action

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Sometimes in your professional life, you have the chance to experience something truly special. You get to be part of an initiative that you know, beyond a doubt, is going to change you and your organization in significant ways. From the outset you are certain that what the program or experience promises, it will deliver, and you will look back in gratitude that this opportunity came your way.

Since July 2006, the Gwinnett County Board of Education and I have been engaged in just such an experience. We were invited to participate, along with three other large, urban school systems, in a two-year, comprehensive development program called Reform Governance in Action, or RGA. The program is conducted by the Center for Reform of School Systems (CRSS) in Houston, Texas, headed by Dr. Donald McAdams. Systems do not apply for RGA; rather they are invited to participate, and all expenses for the two years are paid for by The Broad Foundation. We felt extremely honored to be asked to participate last year.

The basic concept of RGA is that school systems, not individual schools, are the best and most appropriate entity to undertake improving public education.

A reform-minded school board working in tandem with a reform-minded superintendent can make phenomenal strides in closing the achievement gap and raising academic achievement for every child. They do so by understanding and carrying out their respective roles and responsibilities as a high-performing Board-superintendent governance team.

When we began our RGA involvement, Gwinnett County Public Schools already had a long history of effective governance and management of its schools. But there was a lot of growth in store as we set about the work of learning and applying Dr. McAdams” framework for improving schools. For starters, the Board adopted its Core Beliefs and Commitments about children, education, and the impact of the school on a child”s life. Our Board adopted beliefs that were not new ideas, but instead reflected the principles that have guided the Board”s work for well over a decade. They were not written down, however, until RGA showed us how powerful it can be to publicly declare your beliefs about public education, and live by them. Now we share the beliefs everywhere.

Next came an emphasis on ensuring that our Board meetings are focused on meaningful issues related to teaching and learning, as well as smooth school operations. We began holding "Board business oversight workshops" on a regular basis, and we are refining our Results-Based Evaluation System (RBES) to include key performance indicators for the system and operational divisions.

One year into the program, the Board dealt with perhaps the most crucial component of the RGA framework, developing its "theory of action for change." It is how the Board will approach continually improving our schools. We call our theory of action "managed/performance empowerment." At its heart is the Board”s belief that we must manage our core business – teaching and learning – and hold schools accountable for their results. But we must also balance accountability with empowerment and flexibility for schools that are successful.

We are now moving headlong into implementing our theory of action. As we do so, I believe it will be an historic time for Gwinnett County Public Schools. Our involvement in RGA has already paid huge dividends in our school improvement efforts, but the best is yet to come. Our students, our schools, and our community as a whole will continue to reap the benefits of our involvement in this program for many years.

Check out the school system”s Web site at for ongoing communication regarding the Board”s RGA experience.

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