Site-Based Decision-Making

Chapter 9 - Recruitment: Identifying a Positive Campus Council

If the wrong people -- negative, contentious, ego-centered individuals -- are elected or appointed to a school council, site-based management can be an unhealthy, an unproductive and an unpleasant experience for all involved. Even if the people are well-meaning but just happen to be ill-prepared, site-based management may be a difficult and unrewarding experience. Schools should be careful to think long and hard about who will make the best representatives.

Spirit matters more than point of view. The most important quality is a constructive spirit. These must be people who are willing to listen, find the good in proposals and seek the common ground. They must be passionate about good education for children, but their passion must not run so strongly that they are blinded to opportunities to build consensus.

In some districts the members of school councils -- both parents and teachers -- are appointed by principals. This provides the instructional leader of the school with an opportunity to develop a balanced and productive group, one which represents a multiplicity of perspectives as well as diverse populations.

It is essential that the principal not "stack" the group with followers willing to spout the "party line," for the future of the project will be undermined from the very beginning. At the same time, he or she must be careful not to appoint those with a track record for steadfast, unyielding and stubborn opposition or those with "axes to grind."

There should be a goodly number of people who may differ in a respectful manner, who will hold any decision up the light and give it thorough attention, operating out of rational consideration rather than prejudice or ideology.

The principal should take into account not only the qualities of each individual separately but also their contribution to the chemistry of the group as a whole. Will there be reasonable participation from all members? Will the group be a source of ideas and inspiration. This is no time to appoint well meaning, smiling silent members unless they are great writers and researchers who may make other kinds of contributions.

An important issue to consider in making appointments is the history of each person as a community communicator. How have they done with rumor in the past? Can they be counted upon as a voice of moderation and calm as the voyage begins? What kind of influence do they have? Are they viewed with respect by their counterparts? Are they known for being good listeners? Are they thought of as thoughtful or wild and crazy? Do they have the empathy to work with teachers if they are parents and vice versa?

Even if the members of the council are elected, there should be some dialogue within the building and the community about the kinds of people who will make good members. In some schools and districts with a long tradition of difficult labor relationships, the criteria for selection of teachers may be inappropriate for a school council. Oftentimes union reps are selected because they are tough and unmoving in dealing with the administration. Even moderate teachers will often support difficult peers for this adversarial post. The soft spoken and constructive personality types may shy away from this kind of committee. If so, the prospects for success will be damaged.

Members of the staff and the administration should encourage constructive colleagues and parents to "throw their hats in the ring." This kind of person often feels somewhat humble and reluctant to test the waters of political conflict. This may be especially true if there is actually a contest and some flamboyant and angry individuals are running for the school council on "hot issues." The unfortunate consequence of politicizing the selection process is the possibility of scaring away good people and providing a soap box for those with negative motivation. At the same time, in schools where the principal might otherwise "stack" the group, politicizing might be preferable.

Whether it be appointment or election, the school will be best served by a wide advertisement of the openings along with reassuring but honest presentations describing what is entailed. There is some danger, otherwise, that the selection process will be dominated by "squeaking wheels." This is an opportunity to broaden the school's outreach so that many types of people not usually involved will find the doors open to them. Few people will be impressed by the prospects for change if the "same old people" end up with all the power and the influence. An open process, on the other hand, sets a positive tone for the new venture and creates optimistic expectations.

Once people have indicated interest in the school council, the principal should take the time to meet with each person and find out why they are interested and what attributes and experience they might bring to the group. It is also important to test the commitment of the individual to stick with the project for several years because the importance of developing group skills argues for minimizing turn-over. The principal should also clear up any confusion about the future role of the council.

How does the principal or other school people recruit parents or teachers who cannot meet after school? This is a troubling issue for site-based management. Since the process is meeting-intensive, the choice of meeting time may act to restrict the types of people who may participate. Afternoon meetings may discriminate against coaches, working parents and teachers with yound children, for example. Extensive, lengthy evening meetings, on the other hand, may be unfair for those receiving no payment.

Because site-based management relies upon group process to steer the school forward, the choice of people to serve on the school council can make or break the project. While many school people may be reluctant to participate in active recruitment because it seems too much like "playing politics," those who trust the winds to deliver a good group may soon find themselves wrestling with serious protracted conflicts.

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Copyrighted 1991 by Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved.