In a recent blog post, I used a quote from Gene I. Maeroff’s well-known book titled School Boards in America (2010): “all too often school boards get so tangled in thickets of minutiae that they neglect to walk the straight course that they should follow in the pursuit of solid education. And the underpinnings of democracy are weakened when students receive anything less. […] There should be no alternative to governing well.”
It is true that Ontario school boards are constrained by provincial legislation and rules in certain aspects of their operations, such as financial allocations per student, or standard curricula. Yet, nothing should prevent the boards from ensuring long-term and effective planning, performance measurement, and sound accountability practices – many of which are lacking currently. School boards should also have effective and democratic governance structures in place. This includes trustees who set the vision and overall strategy for the boards, and oversee closely their operations.
What the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) needs, following the 2018 elections, is a new Board of Trustees that is willing to ensure that students, parents and communities are consulted in all key decisions; that Ottawa is willing to push back if provincial policies impact negatively our schools; and that continuous performance measurement of all activities, along with regular reporting to the public, is the norm – rather than the exception. It is the new Trustees’ duty to make evidence-based decisions, and to act as a true accountability body for the Board.
Ottawa students, parents and communities need to see the impact of each OCDSB program; have to be confident that taxpayer dollars are spent as effectively and efficiently as possible and that students’ needs are the core decision-making driver; and should be directly involved – working closely with the Trustees – in keeping Board staff accountable for program results.
As a concrete proposal, OCDSB should consider proven practices that get things done in other public sector organizations. One of these approaches, pioneered in the United Kingdom, called “deliverology,” has had significant impact in a number of countries around the globe, including Canada. The starting point for this model is a set of clear measurable goals which are prioritized; it goes without saying that planning for the delivery of such goals is essential. The approach requires a small but strong “delivery unit” (to keep the system on track even when distractions arise) and a focus on monitoring / performance data. Coherent governance and regular reporting to senior management and stakeholders are also key components of this model.
Again, there should be no alternative to governing well – and to demonstrating this, on a continuous basis, to the citizens. To bring positive change to OCDSB, the Board needs Trustees who are putting the students’ interests first; who are willing to spend all the time and energy required to build a robust performance and accountability culture at the Board; and who are not afraid to speak up when the results are not satisfactory for students, parents and communities. Ottawa’s English public school board can and should do better.
Dr. Dragos Popa
OCDSB SEAC Member