When we think about setting policy, usually we are thinking about creating rules that we intend to be fixed and permanent. But there is another way to look at policy. While policy is a district’s guiding star, it should also be seen as flexible enough to help boards adapt to ever-changing conditions. Try thinking of policy as being less like fixed dogma and more like a problem-solving tool.

Policy and Change

Sometimes change is the very essence of a policy, and provides much needed flexibility for a board. For example, a policy on committees can give the newly-elected board president full authority at the reorganization meeting to dissolve all existing committees, to designate new committees and to assign board members. If the committees are working well, fine, keep them as is. But entropy and loss of momentum can make committees less effective over time. If your committees are not functioning as well as you’d like, consider allowing the new board president to create an entire new roster of committees at the reorganization meeting.

The policy language to allow this would look something like this: “The committee chairperson and members shall be appointed by the board president. All standing committees shall be dissolved at the end of the board’s year and re-established at the annual organizational meeting. Committees may be dissolved at any time with approval of the board.”

When committees aren’t functioning as intended, change is good. Here is clear sample text for a “strong president” system to allow mid-year reshuffling of committee membership:

“The board president at the time of the reorganization of the board will determine what committees, if any, will be used for the coming year. The board president will appoint board members to committees. The board president may make additional appointments, consolidate committees, and remove or replace committee members at any time during his/her term of office.”

Good policies are “clear, legal and workable” as we like to say at NJSBA. Unfortunately many district policies are unclear about the role of the board president in removing or replacing committee members, so bad situations fester.

Ad Hoc Committees

If a school district has an issue it needs to examine or a change it needs to make, consider using an “ad hoc” committee. Ad hoc is a Latin phrase meaning “for this,” and generally signifies a solution designed for a specific task or problem. These are temporary groups formed to study an issue, make recommendations to a board, and then dissolve. Typically when such a committee is formed, it has a deadline by which it must report back to the entire board.

Many districts find it valuable to have members of the community join an ad hoc committee, as well as board members. Community members can bring new eyes and skills to the job of examining a problem. (As a side benefit, opening a board ad hoc committee to community members can be a way to identify and entice new talent to join the school board at a later date.)

If you are ready to start the process of change using an ad hoc committee, NJSBA can help by providing guidelines for the operation of such advisory committees.

Social Media Policies

Changes in technology necessitate changes in policy. In February, the state legislature passed S-441, which would require every school district to have a policy on social networking within 120 days of the effective date of the law. At press time, the bill awaits the governor’s signature; he has until the end of April to sign or veto the bill, otherwise it will become law.

Many districts already have such a policy. A portion of NJSBA’s model policy on social networking is in the box on page 40. The full policy is online at staging.njsba.org. An earlier version of this policy gained national attention in 2010 and has been much copied coast-to-coast since then. The text has been updated to match changing technology, changing terminology, and the changing legal requirements. If you need more information on this, contact Steve McGettigan, NJSBA policy unit manager.

Changing How Policies are Circulated

In addition to adding a new policy or changing the text of an individual policy, you may find many other ways to change and to improve. For example, how are your policies circulated and distributed? One major change in the past decade is the use of technology and the Internet to place school policies online. School boards are rapidly going paperless for their board meetings, saving money and gaining distribution efficiencies.

Constructive change is the friend of all organizations, including school districts. We urge boards to embrace it.

David Bosted recently retired from the NJSBA policy unit after ten years with the New Jersey School Boards Association. In 2012-2013, he served as president of the American Association of State Policy Services (AASPS).