Springfield Public School District 186 in Springfield, Illinois, provides a successful example of site-based management. Since 1996, central and building staff have steadily implemented many of the shared decision-making processes developed by author and labor-management consultant W. Patrick Dolan. According to the District 186 Communications Council (1998), the new system of shared decision-making "is being established deliberately to place greater authority, responsibility, and related decisions for education within the school itself " (p. 3).
Stakeholders from all areas (not just the schools) are constantly involved in the decision-making process. At the district level, a Communications Council (composed of representatives of the board of education, administrators, teachers, and support staff) meets regularly to "assist and support individual learning communities as they implement shared decision-making" (District 186 Communications Council, 1998, p. 6). The roles of the Communications Council have been clearly defined. Specifically, the council locates resources and training for stakeholders, reviews waivers (allowing sites to function outside board, state, and union policies), provides technical assistance to individual site leadership teams, and develops an information system throughout the school district. "The council is not a regulatory body, nor does it replace the superintendent, school board, or collective bargaining groups" (District 186 Communications Council, 1998, p. 6).
A school may participate in the shared decision-making process if at least 80 percent of the school agrees (by secret ballot) to participate. (This process is illustrated in a flowchart of the shared decision-making process.) At each school, a site leadership team is created. The site leadership team is composed of the principal, teachers, support staff, parents, students (at the middle and high schools), and community members. A teacher working with the principal usually chairs the leadership team. The site leadership team assumes primary responsibility for the education of the school's students and generally handles all communications. After receiving appropriate training, the site leadership team completes a needs assessment. Then it forms design teams to focus on the identified areas of need.
The design teams are composed of administrators, staff, parents, and community members. Each design team is charged with developing an action plan (typically predicated upon a review of best practices and available research or literature) that maps out a method of dealing with the problem or need. If approved by the site leadership team, the action plan is presented to the school as a whole for ratification. Once ratified, the plan's implementation is continually monitored and assessed by the design team. At the close of the cycle or school year, the design team's assessments are used as a basis for determining what strategies either did or did not work well. The design team's findings are then worked into the school's next cycle and overall school-improvement plan.
The shared decision-making process functions best when parameters are clearly defined. Schools are more able to develop effective plans when they understand the scope of their responsibility and their power to make changes. Communication also is important. When school board members are kept aware of changes resulting from the implementation of site-based management, they are able to respond promptly if they are questioned by community members about the appropriateness of activities in the schools.
Robert Hill is the superintendent of Springfield Public School District 186, and he heads what is perhaps one of the Midwest's most conscientious attempts at decentralizing the school decision-making process. Since 1996, more than half of the 36 schools in the district have bought into and remain fully vested in the shared decision-making process. "What's going on is a conscious attempt to realign power, and lately I can't give away the power fast enough," says Hill.
Although the central office still holds primary responsibility over most budgetary decisions, District 186 is in the midst of implementing a Web-based business information system. With the infrastructure in place, Hill foresees the district taking steps towards a system of quasi-autonomous site-based budgeting. Despite the current lack of budgetary authority, participating schools have a good deal of say over the formulation of school policy, scheduling and grade reporting, the selection of instructional materials, and staffing patterns.
Principal selection is perhaps one of the most notably collaborative and democratic processes the district has undertaken. As the district moves toward collective hiring, candidates undergo a rigorous series of interviews by parents, school staff, students, and a mix of district personnel.
The work of W. Patrick Dolan has been instrumental in helping District 186 move toward shared decision-making. In fact, Dolan's book Restructuring Our Schools: A Primer on Systemic Change has served as District 186's shared decision-making instruction manual. Superintendent Hill, other administrators, the Springfield Education Association, and school board members attest to the effectiveness of the Dolan model for school change. Dolan is "a pioneer in promoting collaboration within learning communities," states Superintendent Hill.
Site-based management in District 186 is constantly being adapted to reflect changing needs and phases in the implementation process. In spring of 2000, the name of the Communications Council was changed to the S.I.T.E.E. Council (Shared Initiatives Toward Excellence in Education), and the membership was expanded to include a representative from the site leadership teams of every school in the district. The new Council is organized to operate in a manner congruent with a school's site leadership team.
For additional information, refer to Springfield Public School District 186.