Dr. Peter Hughes, superintendent of Haworth School District in Bergen County and a former member of the Kinnelon Board of Education in Morris County; and Kerri Wright, a longtime member of the Chester Board of Education in Morris County and a lawyer with Porzio Bromberg & Newman P.C. who often represents school boards, were recently featured on “Education Matters,” the popular video series hosted by Ray Pinney, director of county activities and member engagement at the New Jersey School Boards Association.
In the first part of a four-part School Governance Primer series, the two spoke about the relationship between the school board and the superintendent.
The board’s job is to make sure schools are run well while the superintendent’s job is to work with the board to govern the district on a day-to-day basis, Hughes noted. The board’s job is to help determine policy, weigh in on the budget and approve or reject hiring recommendations. “It really is a partnership,” he said.
It’s critical for board members to understand the role they serve versus the superintendent, said Wright, who is NJSBA’s 2021-2022 Board Member of the Year. “The board functions best when it has a good working relationship with the superintendent and understands what its role is,” she said.
As a board attorney, she noted her client is always the board, not individual board members nor the superintendent or district business administrator – even though she may work closely with those various parties.
When a board and superintendent work well together, neither should be surprised by issues that come up at board meetings, she said.
Pinney brought that point home during the interview, observing, “People may like surprise birthday parties, but they don’t like surprises at board meetings.”
Another topic was the board’s annual evaluation of the superintendent.
“It’s not just required by the law, it’s important,” Wright noted, adding that with any employment relationship, it is essential to convey the goals and expectations for the position.
“You can’t hold the superintendent accountable if you don’t provide that feedback, and that feedback is critical – and it comes in the form of the evaluation process,” Wright said.
It’s OK to have multi-year goals, and the evaluation can serve as a checkpoint to determine where you are in your progress, Hughes said. “I like the process,” he said. “We have the ability to offer our own perspective about things we have accomplished, and my board has the opportunity to give me feedback.” He added, “It is a way to hold us accountable.”