Suggested Entry Plan

Jun 28, 2016

by Bob Thompson

(Things to Do When Going To a New District)


  1. Keep in mind it is their school, their kids, and their money.
  2. Invite each board member (and his/her spouse) over to your house for a meal with your family.  This gives you a chance to know them (and them you) as people and not just the superintendent.  It also makes them feel good and it gives you a chance to find out what they are thinking.  (Sometimes the spouse is the power behind the throne).  Also, keep in mind you are trying to learn, so do less talking and more listening.  This is not the time to regale them with tales of past successes.
  3. Have a cup of coffee (lunch, etc.) with every individual board member every month.  Do this at their place of business or a restaurant, not at your office.
  4. Set aside time during the two or three days prior to the board meeting and invite each board member individually to come meet with you for an hour or so to discuss the agenda items, get their questions answered, or bring up any other topic they choose.  Have your staff on standby in case there are specific technical questions on the budget, special education, etc.
  5. During the first three months, be very visible around town and in the schools.  Don’t miss a home ball game or community function, be the last person to leave a function, and stay in town and highly visible on the weekends.  During these sessions, ask the people about the schools and listen closely.  This is the time to map out the “connections” among various members of the staff, board, and community.  After you have established this pattern, you will be able to taper off a little.
  6. Get involved in church.
  7. Eat out from time to time with your family and eat at a variety of places (if available).  Your objective is to be seen as a typical family and as approachable.
  8. Build yourself a “radar” system to gather information.  Getting to know people so they feel comfortable coming to talk to you is a good “informal” system, but a formal system for gathering information (advisory group, the local barber, etc.) is absolutely necessary to glean the hard-to-get information.
  9. Within the first two weeks meet individually for an hour or so with each person who answers directly to you.  Tell him/her that as far as you are concerned this is a confidential session and nothing they say will be repeated, but that you do intend to draw some general conclusions from the group and discuss those with the administrative team and, in part, with the board.  In the interviews, ask questions to determine how each of the administrators sees the district overall and his/her function in particular (see examples below for questions).  Do not agree or disagree with the speaker nor make any commitments, and especially do not tell them your expectations.  Just listen!


A cautionary note: Keep in mind that each of these administrators is coming to your office to “sell” you on the value of his/her job or program, or on the additional resources it needs.  If you allow them to get control of the meeting, they may take up most of the time telling you what they want you to hear, not what you need to hear.  To avoid that problem begin the interview by stating you have some questions you would like to ask then proceed with your questions.  If the interviewee digresses or talks too long, politely interrupt and pull him/her back to the question you asked.  The typical rule is that no answer should be longer than a minute unless you ask clarifying questions.

Examples of Questions to ask in these meetings:

  • Tell me about yourself, e.g. where were you born, went to school, etc.
  • Tell me about your job i.e. “What is the function of your school, department, etc., and what specifically is your role”?
  • What are your dreams/goals for your school or department?
  • What objectives did you establish for your school, department, etc, at the beginning of this year?
  • What process did you use to establish those objectives
  • How successful have you been in reaching your objectives i.e. indicators of success?
  • What changes can be made in the district, your school, etc. that would allow you to be even more successful?
  • What changes, if any, did you make to meet your objectives?
  • What, if anything, is hindering you from reaching your objectives/goals?
  • How can I help you reach your objectives/goals?
  • Tell me about the people, equipment, facilities, etc. that you have to work with.
  • Describe the other administrators in the district.
  • Who are the rising stars in the district
  • What (schools, departments, etc.) in the district are struggling and may need extra help?
  • If you could wave your magic wand and make a change (other than the type of kids and parents in our school) what would that change be?
  • What are your objectives for next year?
  • Add other questions that are pertinent to you getting up to speed in a hurry.

    Remember, do not tell them your goals or make any general observations in this meeting.  That information will spread like wildfire and anyone you interview after that will likely give answers in line with what they have heard.

10. After hearing from every administrator who answers to you, meet with them individually a second time and tell them your expectations.  Ask them if they can meet those expectations, how long will it take, and what help they will need from you and the support staff?  If they say they can’t meet those expectations, tell them that is okay, but you really need someone who can.

11. Gather “baseline” information on the district within the first 30 days and put it into a state-of-the-school report to the board and make it an annual event thereafter.  This report may overlap your Annual Performance Report but it contains much more practical information for the board to use in making decisions.  If necessary, ask for financial or other audits to identify any problems you may have inherited.

12. Start having regular (quarterly) retreat sessions with the board to get them to talk about their dreams for the district.  (There should be no action items on this agenda and it would be best if held away from the board room).  It is here you talk about the future they want for the district, the forces of change at play, and what you need to do to achieve that future.

13. Try to initiate at least one money saving/cost cutting measure in the first three months (if it is a cut at the administration building it is even better), and to solve at least one major problem the first year.  But, unless there is a specific charge or a major concern expressed by the board and acceptable to the community and staff, go slow on making major changes and make sure you have a majority of people on board.

14. Learn to “export” decisions.  Use committees and outside experts on all important or sticky questions, e.g. salary study, management study, facility needs, attendance boundaries, etc.  Then let the committee become the lightening rod on the issue.  You develop criteria for the solutions and let them make the decisions.  This isn’t avoiding your job, this is your job.

15. Try to get the board to host an academy in January of each year for people who are thinking about running for the board.

16. Use the fax, e-mail, or telephone to send information/updates to your board several times each week.

17. When you speak to the PTA, Rotary Club, etc. comment on what a good job the board is doing and continually remind them that a good board is critical to school success.  It is also okay to say that in order to maintain the quality of the school the community wants, it must continue to elect good board members.  But, whatever you do, don’t get sucked into commenting on a board election or a candidate.  You must be prepared to work with whomever they send you.

18. You don’t want your board to micro-manage, so don’t you micro-policy.  In other words, stay out of policy decisions!  Be a resource, but not an advocate.

19. Finally, get rid of any back-stabber, jerk, or malcontent during the first six months. (See the “No Jerk Rule” under “Life’s Little Lessons”).