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Site-based management: friend or foe.

One of the popular terms in school management today is site-based management, also called shared-decision making or participatory management. What do these terms mean? There is no one set definition because they are defined by the local school or school district. This individual interpretation makes it crucial for art educators to take an active part in defining and implementing site-based management in their schools. As a teacher, you could help shape the definition and implementation of this concept in your school, and make site-based management a friend, rather than a foe. This is an opportunity to pursue active involvement in your school council, and inform other colleagues of your priorities and needs. This article will provide you with a general definition for site-based management, a rationale, general changes which occur in a program making the transition to site-based management, and information which will assist you to function effectively in a site-based management system.


Generally speaking, site-based management is the process of decentralizing the school district system. Each individual school becomes responsible for decision-making, management and educational improvement. The degree of redistribution is determined by the school district administration and board of education. The question becomes: How much authority are district administrators willing to relinquish? Once relinquished, the question then becomes: How will the building principal involve the staff in distributing authority? The answers to both of these questions vary greatly from district to district.


Site-based management is based on the idea that educational decisions will be better made and implemented if made by those closest to the effects of these decisions. This provides an opportunity for input from teachers, support personnel, parents and the community. Participation often provides those involved with more of a sense of ownership; it improves teachers' morale. Some believe that this process will lead to greater accountability.

Site-based management is a direct response to reforms following the reports A Nation At Risk and A Place Called School. Both called for systematic decentralization and shared participation in the management of schools. John Goodlad spoke of greater decentralization, but he did recognize the need for a system of checks and balances at a centralized/district level.

Making the Transition

In order for a school to become site-based, several changes must occur in the school district structure. Before any of these changes are made, however, the local school board must be enthusiastic and knowledgeable about site-based management, and willing to share the power of decision-making by not challenging the school's decisions. This can best be accomplished by clearly defining which decisions are the school's to make and which are district level decisions.

The superintendent must be willing to relinquish or delegate some authority. The central office must adjust to fulfilling a support role, as opposed to being bosses or supervisors. Support services include technical assistance, access to information and assisting in long-range planning and district level decision-making.

The role of the principal changes dramatically. The principal has much more authority and responsibility, and must learn to share power and operate in a new, participative structure. The principal still holds the ultimate responsibility for the school. Proper training time for principals to learn new methods and approaches is essential to the success of the program. The principal must be knowledgeable regarding mandatory state rules and regulations, and must know if the state will allow waivers for those mandates. Most important, the principal must know which decisions should be school-based decisions and which should be district driven.

Teacher roles are enhanced to have more impact on school-based decisions. Time must be provided for teachers to be in-serviced and implement these new responsibilities. Implementing a site-based program takes time and results are not immediate. The program must be planned very carefully to ensure teacher participation. Teachers already have full-time jobs; their job responsibilities will need to be redefined and time may have to be re-allocated.

Schools should institute a school site council. This council varies; it is usually a combination of the principal, teachers, support staff, parents, community members and students. Site councils are usually advisory in nature.


The effectiveness of the program depends on the amount of authority delegated to the school. The major areas of control are budget, curriculum and personnel. The balance of this authority is delicate. The district has the final responsibility in carrying out the rules and regulations of the state, as well as fiscal and legal obligations. The key to success is careful planning with a realistic time line; proper in-service and staff development for board members, administrators and teachers; and clarity of individual and school roles and responsibilities. One key difficulty in site-based management is in the litigation potential. In these situations, the district is held accountable.

What Art Teachers Need to Know

In order for art teachers to function successfully in a site-based system, it is first necessary to get acquainted with the system in which you will be working--know the structure of your system and how decisions are made. If your district is developing a site-based program, it is imperative that you are involved in shaping it to ensure that the visual arts are an integral part of the curriculum.

Second, be an active participant in the system as well as the school community. The amount of teacher and community participation encouraged by the principal could have a direct impact on the visual arts program. It is the art teacher's responsibility to influence the principal's attitude toward visual arts and to seek out other individuals who are supportive of visual arts education to serve on the school council. Offer to serve on committees and assist in working with challenges and implementation designs for the site-based management system. Make sure that you are viewed as a positive influence.

Third, be aware of your state's requirements, and whether they allow for school district or school waivers regarding the implementation of mandated subject areas. Know what your recourse is if your district is not following appropriate procedures. Work with district committees and administrators to ensure that they are aware of the appropriate rules, regulations or laws to be followed, and what consequences could prevail.

If you practice these points, you may find that site-based management will become your friend. If you allow the site-based system to develop and grow without your guidance and expertise, you may discover a formidable foe has emerged, that has the potential of decimating your visual arts program.
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Author:Boyer, Gretchen A.
Publication:School Arts
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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