Great Ideas – Federal Way – Board of the Year

An Interview with Dr. Tammy Campbell … Federal Way Supt … Board of the Year 2020

The Federal Way Public School’s Board of Directors was named Board of the Year for 2020 by the Washington State School Directors Association AND recognized as a school of distinction for five years in a row.  They were recognized for their work in addressing opportunity gaps and providing learning essentials, including rigorous curriculum, technology, and high-quality facilities.

This interview with Superintendent Tammy Campbell reflects a dynamic board-superintendent partnership formed around a clear purpose – student success.   And it serves as a powerful example of a “community of practice” where board and superintendent continue to learn from each other. 

How do you sustain positive and productive relationships with the board?

It’s about alignment of vision and values. 

We spend a great deal of our retreat time together on policy governance.  The board aligned our ends policy with the strategic plan.  As a result the board and superintendent stay aligned on values. We stay focused.  Our board remains super disciplined in policy governance.  They hold me accountable for results.  And, with role clarity we get a lot more done.  We are not distracted from our main focus.

Talk about goal setting and the ends process.

Student success is at the heart of our strategic plan. 

The board evaluates me only on the ends.  Everything goes back to the strategic plan. The ends and measures are aligned directly to the strategic plan. That alignment is critical.  Each school has two goals aligned to the strategic plan. The schools’ work aligns with the goals I am evaluated on.  I am evaluated on things that matter for kids.  We struggle on year over year attainment.  But we are knocking it out of the park on secondary attainment.  Grad rates have gone up for the last seven years in a row and it is steady incremental progress, getting a few more kids across the finish line each year.

How do you assess board-superintendent working relationships?

We do a lot of self-monitoring on the things we have agreed to. 

  • We assess every board meeting. One of the board members assesses our work at the end of each meeting on how we are doing in public. They rate themselves … Were we prepared … Did we contribute in alignment with policy governance? 
  • We spend 75% of our time talking about student outcomes. That is one of the metrics that we measure ourselves by.
  • The state superintendent’s metric is used to rate my performance and the board has a tool to measure their support of the superintendent. So there is reciprocity.
  • The board does a self-assessment in December, a mid-year check. And the board posts those ratings online for the community to see.
  • We measure the degree to which we are staying disciplined to the professional environment we have agreed on.

Are there other protocols that you use?

Always keep your eye on the main thing – it’s about students – and center your conversations on students.  We stay absolutely focused on children:

  • Classroom walks help the board know exactly what our success criteria looks like. They can do a walk with the best of them. They have high expectations.  That helps us keep the main thing the main thing.  We stay focused on kids.
  • Retreats: During retreats we often do simulations. If this happens, what would you do?  Which policy does this issue connect to?  I attribute that work to the cohesion we have around policy focus.
  • Equity: We do a group book reading on racial equity to let the community know the board is supporting the work the schools are doing on racial equity. Right now, we are reading Caste. Last year we read How to Be an Anti-racist. They do this as a part of their televised board meeting.

Talk about board communications.  How do you do that?

I tell the board everything. 

  • There are no secrets. I tell the board everything about operations. There are no secrets.  When you make them aware of everything there is less desire to micromanage.  You make it transparent to them, what is happening behind the screen.
  • I do the Friday memo, 1 on 1s twice a month, 2 on 1 with the board president and one other board member.
  • Be honest. When things don’t go well.  When things go wrong, don’t hide.  Be strong enough to call it out. Say, I didn’t do that right.  I tell them that.

What else have you learned about strong board-superintendent relationships?

We get back to people:

  • If there is a concern, board members call me. There is nothing they can’t ask me.  I am responsive.  Team members gather the information. I get back to the board member.
  • When the board gets a concern from the public, they do a ‘reply all’ with a short response and a note saying Dr. Campbell will respond. Then I will ‘reply all’ letting the board know I have responded to close that loop.
  • This works because we get back to people. If a parent reaches out to us with a concern, we get back to them within 24 hours.  In my six years there haven’t been one or two people who can say we haven’t gotten back to them.
  • No secrets.   That is the price of autonomy.
  • When you get back to people you can push the board and be more assertive around role clarity.

Thank you, Dr. Campbell, for sharing the great work that you and the Federal Way board are doing.

My takeaways?  Be clear on your purpose – student success.  Align all your work around student success.  Agree on what success looks like.  Set measures – 75% of our time will be spent on student success.  Self-assess.  And keep growing.  That’s a “community of practice” where we keep “learning by doing” … checking our results … making refinements … getting better.  Way to go, Federal Way!  – Larry

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Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

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