Is your school board a high-performing team? What are its strengths and weaknesses? What could be improved in the coming year? Ignoring these questions would make board growth in efficacy a matter of sheer luck. You don’t need expensive consultants to find the answers. Any board can undergo a constructive, honest process of self-evaluation. At every stage of the process, technology makes self-assessment easy, accurate and thorough – all without sacrificing state-of-the-art security.

Stage One: Defining Annual Objectives

Assuming a school board has already determined what instrument, rating method and supporting data it will use, the year-long process of self-evaluation typically begins in the summer. Over the summer, the school board should set its annual objectives – which, unlike the mission statement or core values, will change from one year to the next.

Crafting those goals is no small task. The final product must have visionary breadth without vapid generalities. Its objectives must be measurable, but not trivial. Numerous inputs and multiple revisions make it the thoughtful piece of work that it needs to be.

The right technology makes that collaborative editing process clear and traceable. Say the board works from a shared rough draft (R1). With good board portal software, it’s possible for all board members to view R1 when they log onto the system. As one person, Sandra, makes comments, they are recorded on R1 in a color that indicates that they came from Sandra. A time stamp marks the moment the changes occurred. The resulting document, R2, now appears when somebody else logs on.

The board never loses track of who-said-what-when. Say a board member named Derrick then adds his comments to Sandra’s. The new document, R3, consists of R1 with the comments of both Sandra and Derrick time stamped and color coded. If the group agrees to all (or some) of their changes, then a designated super-editor pulls the trigger to “accept” those changes, and everybody then sees a new document, R4. Future commenters work from that version. The decision to accept or reject any changes can be made incrementally or all at once at the end of the process.

Gone are the days of crazy-making group editing. We’ve all been there: First, R1 goes out as an email attachment. Then, Sandra makes some changes to R1, creating R2. But nobody gets notified that there’s a new version. So when Derrick marks up R1 a few hours later, he does not know of Sandra’s changes. Different commenters work from the two different R2s, compounding the confusion as R3s and R4s start to circulate. Multiple versions fly around the internet, and some comments inevitably get dropped.

Stage Two: Gathering Information

Having defined their objectives in the summer, most school boards do not revisit the self-evaluation process until the spring, when each member is asked to assess his own performance and that of the entire board over the preceding nine to 12 months. No board member clearly remembers absolutely everything that transpired in that time. If a minor newspaper article mentioned praise or criticism of the school board, that relevant fact might not make it into the board’s self-assessment. Come evaluation time, if something happened but nobody documented it, it may as well not have happened at all.

If only everyone could view objective records of the year’s events without following old e-mail trails or flipping through past calendars to reconstruct important moments. Good board portal technology makes it possible with the help of numerous features:

  1. Central storage of all records 
    A good board portal becomes a central repository for all the records of the year – agendas, minutes, RFPs, maps, budgets, legislation, policies, spreadsheets, board packet materials, research and historical documents.
  2. Searchability
    Imagine that all those records were searchable by keyword. In a single meta-search, any board member could find every citation of a term across all files in all formats. BoardDocs, a Diligent brand, board portal software gives this astonishing power to every board member as he retraces the fate of a given topic over the year.
  3. Continuous file compilation
    Some files contain synonyms for keywords; others work with a concept that is not explicitly labeled. Even these files can be summoned easily with BoardDocs Plus. As the board goes about its business all year, it can tag every file (e.g., “example of teamwork,” “communication problem” or “outside recognition”). An end-of-year search by tags instantly generates a complete list of all the relevant documents.
  4. Video footage
    Say a board member asserts in his assessment of the group that two members dominate meetings. Board portal software lets the board make audio-video tapes of school board meetings, posted on the public-facing website and catalogued in the online archive. Such a board member can quickly find footage that shows those two members not only taking most of the time in a meeting, but even using a loud or threatening tone.
  5. Cross-platform accessibility
    With the right software, board members don’t need to be in their offices to conduct the targeted sleuthing that informs their evaluations. With BoardDocs, a Diligent brand, the portal can be accessed across devices, be they tablets, phones, laptops or desktops.

Stage Three: Linking Records to Annual Goals

So the board members have pulled all of the information that they need from the records. What does that information have to do with the board goals for the year? Applying some best practices can break down this monstrosity of a task into manageable components. Technology can even make the daunting job virtually automatic.

Best practices bridge the gap between the language of the goals and the details from the year. For instance, the evaluation instrument itself should make explicit links between the exact wording of the goals and the responses of board members. Another expert move is to create clever ways to quantify seemingly non-measurable goals. Say an annual goal is to “increase trust within the board.” Progress toward that goal could be indicated by whether every board member, in completing the self-evaluation, gave a response of “strongly agree” or “agree” to the statement: “The board consists of honest people who complete their assignments on time with the needed attention to detail.”

Technology can even automate the calculation of progress toward goals in terms of the time devoted to reaching them. With initial training, BoardDocs, a Diligent brand, clients can enter their daily calendars into a goal-tracking database. The software then adds up the hours devoted to reaching each of the goals, providing a percentage figure showing how much of the planned work toward each goal has been completed. Any board member can access those figures at any time. Some school boards even put a dashboard on the “front page” of the website view accessed by directors.

Security

The software that makes it all possible keeps board material safe from hackers and from the prying eyes of the public. It stores all files on a secure private server with full 256-bit encryption. It furthermore consistently separates sensitive documents intended for the board from the scrubbed versions of those documents that the public can see when they log onto the portal’s public-facing website.

With great technology, school board self-evaluations need not suffer from haste, neglect, blurry memories or disorganization. BoardDocs, a Diligent brand, board portal software revolutionizes the process with a host of features that save time and improve accuracy. With a clear indication of its strengths and weaknesses, the board can schedule professional development opportunities in the following year that leverage their abilities and address their shortcomings. As one year follows another, the board will move from strength to strength.