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Mighty MIG 

Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive!

Fall 2013

It’s no good asking Cayucos Elementary School District board President Kerry Friend to pinpoint a single “aha” moment that stands out from all she’s learned during the six months she spent field-testing CSBA’s redesigned Masters in Governance program. “There have been so many of those moments,” says Friend, who graduated after finishing the last of nine pilot MIG modules this fall. “I [left] every class feeling I’ve learned things that will really help me do a better job.”

Fellow MIG field tester Sonny Fereira, president of the Red Bluff Union Elementary School Board, agrees. “There are always nuggets I take from every class,” he says. “I’ve already used what I’ve learned to improve my performance and streamline some of our board processes.”

Friend and Fereira are among 25 intrepid governance team members who have devoted a substantial amount of their precious free time over the past six months to help CSBA’s Association Education Department and MIG faculty refine an improved version of the popular and effective governance leadership program. Revamped and redesigned after what CSBA Executive Director Vernon M. Billy has called an “exhaustive and robust examination,” the new, improved MIG is launching this fall.  

It’s a 10-hour roundtrip drive from San Luis Obispo to the association’s West Sacramento headquarters, and Friend’s will have made the trip five times by the time she graduates. But she says the training has been well worth the time and energy she’s invested. “It’s already helped make our board stronger,” she says. “The information was invaluable, and the program gave me opportunities to network with others who have been through the same things I have.”

CSBA’s MIG redesign team, which includes Jean Dunn Gallagher, senior director of Association Education, and Training Coordinator Stephanie Goodlett, says the association’s premier leadership training program—a groundbreaking national model—is now better than ever. It’s taken a year of intense work by CSBA staff and MIG faculty, and the dedication of members like Friend, who are providing essential real-world evaluations of what’s working and what could be improved. More than 1,500 school board members and superintendents have completed the highly acclaimed governance leadership program, which was an outgrowth of CSBA’s Masters in Boardsmanship. Developed in the 1980s, it was one of the first training programs for school governing boards in the nation.

But times have changed dramatically since the first MIG courses debuted in 1999, and the new MIG is changing with the times.

‘Interactive learning and in-depth treatment’

In a report to members of CSBA’s Delegate Assembly earlier this year, Billy explained that the aim of the redesign is to make this valuable training available to even more governance team members by cutting classroom instruction time in half, allowing students to complete the program in a year instead of two—thus making the program more accessible and cost-effective.

The new Masters in Governance program also takes advantage of technology and includes access to digital libraries, webinars and online material. It’s all focused on preparing students for class ahead of time, so they’ll arrive with background information that forms the basis for each session.

MIG redesign architects have updated program content to align with CSBA’s Effective Governance System, a research-based framework that clarifies the roles and responsibilities of school board members and superintendents as they set the direction for student success. The MIG curriculum consists of nine classes, which have been condensed into five full days of training. Eight are covered in 3½-hour courses; they are Foundations of Effective Governance; Setting Direction; Policy and Judicial Review; Student Learning and Achievement; Human Resources; Collective Bargaining; Community Relations and Advocacy; and Governance Integration. School Finance will be offered in both half-day and full-day formats. Course 1, Effective Governance and Setting Direction, must be taken first, and Course 5, Community Relations/Advocacy and Governance Integration, must be taken last. But MIG students are free to take the other courses in any order they choose. Understanding the governance implications of LCFF will be a top priority going forward, with an express aim of giving governance teams the tools they need to handle the many challenges and opportunities inherent in the new school funding and accountability system, as well as the Common Core State Standards and other emerging critical issues.

“Reducing the length of the program and taking advantage of new technologies and the creation of online communities allow participants to complete homework to familiarize themselves with the basics before class,” CSBA Executive Director Billy told the Delegate Assembly. “This permits interactive learning and in-depth treatment of the material when students meet face to face with subject matter experts in class.”

Practical follow-up activities will extend the learning beyond the workshops, with a new online library of materials allowing participants to continue learning or review what they’ve already learned. In addition, the new MIG includes a new online peer community, CSBA Engage, so that MIG participants can ask questions, hold discussions and share resources among themselves.

Statewide and regional classes

The new MIG will be offered on both a statewide and regional basis, making it easier for students to find a program near them. Prospective students can enlist colleagues from neighboring districts to request that the MIG program be delivered near them by collaborating with CSBA’s leadership and staff and local county offices of education. The nine classes have been condensed into five full days of training. Billy made the MIG redesign a top priority when he took the helm of the association more than two years ago. As he told CSBA delegates, “As always, we are dedicated to helping you to build the capacity to continually demonstrate that school board leadership impacts student achievement.”

Assistant Executive Director of Member Services Martin Gonzalez says the opportunity for students to network, share experiences and collaborate is a key component of the new MIG: “It’s important that participants have the opportunity to feel connected, to exchange experiences and pose questions in a safe place.” Central to that vision is taking advantage of the online Engage CSBA community, accessible through My CSBA on the association’s website.

The MIG redesign, under way for the past two years, included a survey of members of CSBA’s Delegate Assembly, focus groups and intensive analysis of all aspects of curriculum by MIG faculty and CSBA Association Education and Member Services staff. Members of the MIG faculty—all of whom are experts in their subject area with real-world leadership experience working with districts or as school board members or superintendents—have painstakingly evaluated each module (each has gone through at least three versions) to ensure in-class activities, instruction and homework effectively teach the learning outcomes.

Goal: ‘Never stop learning’

Field testers like Friend and Fereira—“piloteers,” as Gonzalez has nicknamed the new MIG’s inaugural class—tried out the new curriculum, classroom lessons, online resources and at-home assignments and participated in a detailed debriefing session after each class. These piloteers included governing board members, superintendents and new and veteran school leaders. Graduates of the old program were also asked to evaluate the new curriculum.

Members of the MIG redesign team say they’ve identified the most essential elements of each learning module, a process that has been both challenging and rewarding.

“It’s inspired us to be even more intentional because we have had to frame, synthesize and analyze all our key messages,” says veteran MIG faculty member and CSBA Governance Educator and Consultant Leslie DeMersseman, a former president of CSBA who served on the Palm Springs Unified School District board for 14 years.

DeMersseman worked closely on the redesign with fellow governance consultant and MIG faculty member Luan B. Rivera, another past president of the association and a former member of the Ramona Unified School District board in San Diego County. Former Kentfield Superintendent Bob Caine, who was among the designers of the original MIG program and has taught almost every MIG class over the years, was also an integral part of the redesign. Rivera and Caine are MIG graduates themselves, which gives them unique perspectives on the program. Caine, in fact, completed the program with three different governance teams during his nearly four decades of service to his district.

“We’ve all remained really excited about the opportunities to examine the program and make it even better,” says DeMersseman, who—as CSBA president—oversaw the 1999 transition from CSBA’s Masters in Boardmanship program to the Masters in Governance curriculum. “All of us want every student to finish each class having learned a lot and also having enjoyed themselves.”

The attitude of the leaders of the redesign team, who were passionate about their task, reflects the ultimate aim of the MIG program: to help governance teams develop an enthusiasm for continuous improvement as a way to maximize opportunities for the children they serve.

“Because the stakes are so high, we are never going to be satisfied with good enough, we will treat every completed module as an opportunity to learn and improve. In that vein, it’s never going to be perfect and it’s never going to be finished,” Gonzalez says of the MIG redesign. “Our goal is to never stop learning.”

Carol Brydolf ( is a staff writer for California Schools.

What’s new in the new MIG?

  • Easier access for all school board members and superintendents
  • Improved focus on board’s responsibilities
  • Class time cut by half
  • Entire course can be completed in one year
  • Cost-effective with less “seat time” and less travel expense
  • Online resources: master the basics at your own pace
  • Hybrid classroom: combines classroom activities with online resources