VIP Focus: Asking the Right Questions

Submitted by Bob Kittle, President and Cofounder,

DashBoard, May 3, 2017


With so many challenges facing school districts, where does one begin when it comes to prioritizing all the important things that need to be done?

  • Fiscal challenges
  • Third grade reading
  • Website accessibility
  • Soaring facility maintenance and operations costs
  • Substitute teacher shortages
  • Recruiting specialty teachers

Board members are inundated with decisions, including unpopular ones. Oftentimes emotions come into play, and the pressure to make decisions can lead to downstream impacts that nobody anticipates when made hastily. A balance between paralysis by analysis and making informed decisions can be struck by using data and collective intelligence. Begin by asking the right questions.

Trustees come from many walks of life and have diverse skills and experience. Take advantage of that. Focus on your strengths, and let the other board members fill in the gaps with their experience and strengths. The board I sit on has a nice balance of diverse individuals, in gender and race, but also with personal and work experiences.

Our board has a retired GM project manager, a retired fire chief, former police officer, a business-finance professional, an engineer, homemaker and social worker. When it comes to policy, the public safety experience is called upon to address issues in their wheelhouse; the engineer and project manager look at things from a technical standpoint, the businessman is called upon to be the fiscal guru, and the social worker and homemaker cover the bases when it comes to making sure nobody loses sight of the people we’re serving.

This combination gives administration the ability to truly use the collective intelligence of all seven board members, and outcomes are usually (not always) well considered from just about every possible angle.

Is your organization using the collective intelligence of your colleagues? Are you able to debate issues without fear of sounding ignorant or being intimidated by others? Do you know your strengths and how they complement the larger group and the organization’s mission?

Elected officials tend to be extroverts and unafraid to speak what’s on their mind. However, many policymakers are introverted and shy away from asking questions, especially when there may be confrontation. If there is something in your board packet you do not understand, don’t assume your questions will be answered in the meeting. You don’t want to vote on something you don’t completely understand. If it’s a financial issue, for example, ask your business manager for a little one-on-one time in advance of the meeting to better understand the situation. If it’s student related, ask for the same consideration from your superintendent or curriculum specialist.

Know your strengths, understand your weaknesses, and remember, there are no stupid questions when it comes to making sound decisions. Think out of the box, use data to support your case and be strong. Some of the decisions you’ll face will not be popular, but worth making regardless of the consequences.

Remember, the students are counting on you for a sustainable learning environment!

Bob Kittle is the President and Cofounder of, and can be reached at

VIP Focus articles are company-sponsored advertisements and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of MASB. It’s intended to provide Very Important Partners with a space to share information of value to you and your district.

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