Education & Government
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Jill Holtz
Content Strategy Manager

Taking school policy oversight to the next level

December 1, 2023
0 min read
school policy oversight

Policy adoption and oversight are two essential responsibilities of school boards and educational governing bodies. Effective policy management helps ensure the smooth function of the organization and continued support from the community.

In a recent session at Diligent’s annual customer conference, two industry experts gathered to explore school policy development and how making policies available, accessible and compliant is easier when using technology designed for that purpose.

The session explored best practices for maintaining a master policy inventory, tracking policy updates, differentiating responsibilities between policy development and policy implementation, and creating repeatable and sustainable processes to support the organization long-term.

Among the expert panelists were Scott Peters​, School Board Chair, Monadnock Regional School District, an award-winning school district in New Hampshire; and Heather Masshardt, Director of Policy Services, Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

Importance of school policy documents

School policy documents are legal, public-facing documents.

As such, your district is required to comply with documenting its policies. Policies help establish the board and district’s course of action, providing consistency and continuity. They also serve as a communication and accountability tool.

First step: Carry out an inventory of your policies

If you haven’t done so recently, Peters and Masshardt advise completing an inventory of your school policies.

Peters recommends purchasing a one-time audit from your policy management partner or school board association, then creating a compare list against all your association’s policies, which will help create a backlog list to work through.

Finally, your district can also examine where you have policies that are not aligned with current statutes, or your policy management partner or state association’s policy database.

Be warned though: This is not a quick or easy task.

“Tackling your school policies requires a mindset change,” advises Peters. He points out that the bigger picture also requires sacrifice:​ It is a continuous improvement journey for every board, every year. It is not something to ignore, and it is not a race to finish something. “It’s a mindset change of going to continuous improvement. It’s marathon not a sprint.”

You will then have a master policy inventory that is ready for policy development.​

Masshardt advises that all policy documents within your master policy inventory and database have headings and spacing,​ along with a clear font style for readability​. All legal references should have citations​ available.

Policy documents also need to be well organized, with clear naming and numbering convention. They should be easily searchable, as well as printable and shareable.

“Tackling your school policies requires a mindset change” - Scott Peters​, School Board Chair, Monadnock Regional School District

10 tips for school policy development ​

Masshardt and Peters shared extremely useful advice during their session to help schools with policy development. Here are their 10 top tips:

1. Be organized and supportive

The full board must agree on the priorities of the policy committee​. Adopt a continuous improvement mentality​, and remember that policy development is the focus of the school board in conjunction with the superintendent, not school administration​.

Write a policy on how to prioritize policy work and have the board approve that. This can be used for all future policy reviews and will save a lot of time and arguments.

Peters points out that “the big 'aha' is that there’s no one in administration to do that; policy is the #1 job of the school board.”

2. Create a policy tracker

Maintain a policy backlog / action tracker, along with your policy database​. It’s also important to keep key metadata about each policy within your tracker but not within the policy itself:

  • Is the policy required by law?​
  • What were the last updated and last reviewed dates​?
  • Is it current? ​
3. Once you start tracking, don't stop ​

Once you create your policy tracker, you have to keep it updated. Update your tracker when you make changes,​​ or when bulletins are released. Keep a note of the status on everything that’s in flight. This allows anyone coming to the tracker at any time to see progress and easily understand the status of an individual policy.

4. Define roles and responsibilities ​

Write down the roles and responsibilities for everyone involved: the policy committee, policy committee chair, full board, superintendent and district administrative assistant. In addition, be clear about what each entity should or shouldn’t do.

For example, the Policy committee should:

  • Create a charter​
  • Create annual goals​
  • Do the work of the committee​
  • Focus on policy and strategy​
  • Write down / create artifacts​

But shouldn’t:

  • Expect administration to do it​
  • Focus on operations​
  • Focus on specific student examples

The Superintendent​ should:

  • Provide insight into policy execution​
  • Remind the committee of their role and responsibilities​
  • Combat “tradition” with facts and RSAs​
  • Make 1:1 board member calls as needed​

But the Superintendent shouldn’t:

  • Fail to clarify expectations​
  • Fail to execute
  • Let negative behavior go on too long​
5. Clarify policy versus procedure​

A policy is a high-level document that provides guidance on how the schools and district should operate.

A procedure is typically a step-by-step guide on how the administration will implement a policy. It is a more detailed document that provides specific instructions on what to do and how to do it.

For example, a policy might state that the school provides a safe and supportive learning environment for all students. A procedure might then outline the specific steps that school staff should take to investigate and resolve bullying incidents and the disciplinary parameters.

Policies are typically set by the school board in keeping with laws and statutes, while procedures are typically developed by school administrators and staff.

“Separate the policy from the procedure, the how from the why,” advises Peters.

In addition, clarify how the board will prioritize policy work. For example, you might follow Monadnock Regional School District’s priority list:

  1. Auditor requests ​
  2. Semi-annual bulletins​
  3. Administration requests​
  4. Referrals from the full board​
  5. Referrals from committees​
  6. Requests from individuals​

And if they have to choose within a category, they prioritize by:

  • Students​
  • Staff​
  • Public​
  • Finance​
  • Board Governance
6. Leverage your policy partner and your counsel ​

Set up access to your policy partner database and bulletins. These can feed into your tracker. If your association has templates, then adopt these with modifications. Work with your state association as required.

Make sure you consult with your school attorney on any things that need legal input (for example, for federal and state policy).

7. Empower the policy committee

Adopt policies that empower your policy committee and each member of the committee. For example, each member should have access to the policy database and tracker.

8. Assign homework to committee members

Each committee member should read, compare and recommend at least one policy between each meeting​. This will keep your policy database and tracker updated on a consistent basis and help you get through any backlog over time.

9. Document annual policy timing cycles ​

Document your policy cycle so that you can plan ahead. Have a list of everything that must be reviewed and when — this feeds into your agenda-building. So, for example, if you know you set budgets in the new year, then your budget policies need to be reviewed prior to that.

10. Regularly present progress to the full board​

Have the policy committee present progress on a regular basis to the full school board. Masshardt recommends that you “show progress and celebrate success. Communicate it to the public too, it shows the volume of work.”

A final tip: as you go about your school policy development, make sure the processes and procedures you put in place are sustainable and repeatable for the future.

As Peters advises, “You have to build a structure to outlast board directors.”

Technology can streamline policy adoption and deliver transparency

Policymaking is a complex process that has many moving parts and requirements. School boards and their superintendents can use the support of tools such as Diligent Community to be transparent to the public while ensuring a new policy meets the goals set out by the board. You always have the approved up-to-date version available to the public, students and staff.

Policy Publisher for Diligent Community can assist in effortlessly managing your entire policy lifecycle. From creation to adoption, Policy Publisher helps to streamline the flow of policies through each essential stage of your district’s process with ease and efficiency. The product integrates with Diligent Community’s board and agenda management features to ensure the correct version is attached to the agenda, adopted and published in your online policy handbook.


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