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Durango school district considers governance shift, rejects it

Board member: Too much time in the weeds, not enough on student performance

Should Durango’s school board drop its model of governance that limits it to setting broad policies and oversight of one employee, the superintendent?

The question was discussed Tuesday night and rejected by the Durango School District 9-R Board of Education, which held a meeting on Zoom.

A consensus emerged among board members and incoming Superintendent Karen Cheser to keep the model used by 9-R, called coherent governance, as the best way to guide a school district.

School board member Mick Souder expressed frustration that the board spends much of its time rewriting what amounts to hundreds of criteria for review of the superintendent’s job performance, called operational expectations.

He said the time lost in rewriting what 9-R calls “OEs” takes away from time the board should spend reviewing students’ academic results and more creative areas of policy that coherent government allows school boards to set.

“It always seems we’re rewriting the OEs. We use them for one year, then we do a major rewrite,” Souder said.

He noted currently, the board’s policy is to spend about one-third of its time analyzing students’ academic results, but the time spent on rewriting OEs has taken up so much time, it has not allowed that.

“We should be manically focused on results, and we just aren’t,” he said.

Still, losing the guidelines and guardrails that shield school board members from being enveloped by the daily operations and messy politics of administering schools was something Souder and other board members said would be too big of a loss if coherent governance was dropped.

“Everything said, it scares me to change the model, but I wanted to talk about it. It’s worth having a conversation about it,” he said.

School board member Andrea Parmenter said she liked the clean lines of being able to send concerns about day-to-day operations to the superintendent, top administrators and principals, while handling broad policy concerns and oversight of the superintendent.

But getting trapped in the weeds of constantly revising and editing the district’s OEs was a concern she shared with Souder.

“We do keep changing OEs,” Parmenter said. “I tried to make a laminated copy of them, but to Mick’s point, we kept changing them.”

Cheser recommended the board keep coherent governance.

Coherent governance, she said, provides a superintendent and the executive team with clear expectations about what the board wants from them.

“I’m excited about working in a system where there is clear expectations of the executive team, and then it is up to them to make it happen,” she said.

Coherent governancet minimizes the problem of a school board micromanaging schools’ operations, she said.

Moving away from the model would limit the creativity and flexibility of staff members, she said.

“If you follow the model, it’s a powerful tool,” she said.

School board President Kristin Smith admitted to being a “coherent governance nerd.”

She said the best route forward is to refine the model so it functions more smoothly.

“We should find out where the holes are and fill them up, and make it an even better governing system,” she said.


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