Laurie Kimbrel Superintendent

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Effective Governance Requires Unity of Purpose

Shared By Laurie Kimbrel   /     Feb 27, 2016  /     Blog, Laurie Kimbrel, Laurie Kimbrel Superintendent, Laurie Kimbrel Tamalpais, Uncategorized  /     Comments Off on Effective Governance Requires Unity of Purpose

by Laurie Kimbrel, Ed.D.


According to the California School Board Association, the purpose of a locally elected board of trustees is to ensure that school districts are responsive to the values, beliefs and priorities of their communities. School boards are empowered to carry out several important oversight and direction setting functions but in order to be truly effective; a board must have a unity of purpose.


Unity of purpose of the governance team (which includes both the board members and superintendent) include a common focus, agreement on priority goals, and shared values about students, the district and public education that transcend individual differences and fulfill a greater purpose. A unity of purpose exists when the commitment to achieving these goals becomes the guiding principle of the board members and superintendent.


Achieving unity of purpose requires a deliberate, thoughtful process. After all, board members are elected as individuals, but govern as a group. Any action or direction to the superintendent requires a vote of the majority of the board and so an individual with an idea not shared by the group will not get very far.


Oftentimes, unity of purpose is expressed as a mission statement. For example, the mission statement at Tamalpais Union High School District where I served for seven years as a superintendent was developed by the board in collaboration with the community and served as an ongoing reminder of the purpose of the district.


“The Tamalpais Union High School District is dedicated to the development of creative, passionate, and self-motivated learners. Upon graduation, students will be prepared for engaged citizenship and able to contribute individually and collaboratively in order to address the challenges of a dynamic and diverse world. To these ends, all students will demonstrate mastery of core competencies and will be offered meaningful learning experiences to enable them to access and critically analyze information, pose substantive questions, and communicate effectively.”


Although this statement is rather long, it is student focused and can be distilled to two essential components:

  • All students will learn at high levels
  • All students will graduate ready for life in the twenty first century


This mission was annually reviewed by the board and included in the unity of purpose section in the governance handbook. In fact, the board updated the entire handbook, which also included protocols and norms, annually and each member of the governance team signed a cover page indicating their agreement to adhere to the agreements within.

Having an articulated unity of purpose is of great benefit when difficult decisions need to be made. An agreement about the purpose of a governance team and school district transcends political leanings and personal biases. The role of the superintendent is to continuously ask the question, “will this action or decision move us closer to or farther from our stated purpose?” Although the superintendent is a member of the governance team, he or she does not vote and so, in these moments, is appropriate to provide an expert opinion and then to remind board members of their own purpose.


Overall, it is important to remember that school districts are not governed by a single board member but rather, by a board as a whole. The governance team, including the superintendent, assumes collective responsibility for building unity and creating a positive organizational culture in order to govern effectively. As leaders, the governance team sets the tone for organizational culture and a board without unity of purpose, often leads to dysfunction within the larger culture.

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Women in Leadership – Empathy

Shared By Laurie Kimbrel   /     Feb 27, 2016  /     Blog, Laurie Kimbrel, Laurie Kimbrel Superintendent, Laurie Kimbrel Tamalpais, Uncategorized  /     Comments Off on Women in Leadership – Empathy

by Laurie Kimbrel

Empathy (noun):

The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner


Another essential component of leadership for women is empathy or the deliberate act of reflecting on the situation or thoughts of another. Some theorize that women are more naturally empathetic than men, although relying on stereotypes never accurately reflects reality. In an organization with a robust strategic plan that calls for continuous improvement, we need to recognize and understand that different groups of stakeholders will experience change differently. We should take time to listen and understand these experiences and work to understand how it feels from their perspective.


One strategy for gaining empathy for our students is to shadow a typical student in your school for a day. We see their experience from the outside, but what does it really feel like to sit still all day? How difficult is it to understand the differing expectations and systems of different teachers? What does it feel like to wait in line in the lunchroom and to eat your food in 10-15 minutes? As you shadow one student, take the time to ask other students a set of specific questions:

  • What is the learning outcome or goal of this class today?
  • Where are you in terms of that learning goal?
  • What are your next steps to make progress on that goal?

These are questions that I ask when I’m in classrooms and I’m continuously surprised that the learning goal is not always clear to students. This certainly gives me empathy for the difficulty of learning in a system where goals are not explicit.


Empathy requires information and time to listen. Another good strategy to gain information about a particular stakeholder group’s perspective is to set up advisory councils. As a superintendent, I had parent, student and staff advisory councils that met four to five times per year. The first meeting of the year was always without a specific agenda so that I could gather general information about how they experience school and our system. The meeting was organized in terms of three general questions:

  • What is going well?
  • What could be going better?
  • What questions or issues would you like to see addressed at our future meetings.

The final question always brought great ideas for future agenda items.


It can be difficult to set up student advisory councils at the district level. Students identify with a school rather than a school district. As a superintendent, I asked principals to set up school based student advisory councils that I attended. These councils included a wide variety of students from every social group rather than relying on a leadership class or student council. The idea was to get many perspectives rather than the student voice most often heard. As a superintendent, participating in student advisory councils allowed me to understand trends and patterns of thought across the district as well as issues specific to one particular school. I then shared then shared these trends and patterns with the district senior leadership team as well as the school board.


Although there are many different strategies to develop a pattern of deliberate empathy, the most important strategy is to be reflective and thoughtful of how others feel about their schools and the district. Empathy takes time but it may be the best time a leader spends and can drive the pace of innovation and change. Modeling empathy can also move others toward more empathy for our positions as leaders as well. What other strategies do you have to increase empathy within your organization? I would love to hear from others on this topic.

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Teaching and Learning

Shared By Laurie Kimbrel   /     Feb 27, 2016  /     Blog, Laurie Kimbrel, Laurie Kimbrel Superintendent, Uncategorized  /     Comments Off on Teaching and Learning


by Laurie Kimbrel, Ed.D.

Over the course of my career it has become clear to me from both extensive research and practice that absolutely every child can learn at high levels if they are given the right amount of time and support. As a teacher, it is not simply my job to deliver content, but instead my focus is on ensuring that those around me are both growing and reaching high levels of proficiency. In order to achieve these goals, I believe that educators must subscribe to what Carol Dweck refers to as the “growth mindset” and the following elements must be present in our work:

Clearly defined and stated learning outcomes at various levels of complexity For the last seven years, I have worked closed with Jay McTigue, author or Understanding by Design and the Marzano Research Laboratory to develop a system of clearly stated learning outcomes for all of the programs and courses within our schools. According to Robert Marzano, effective learning goals provide both the student and teacher with a clear understanding of the target knowledge. Effective learning requires that we are transparent about the learning goals, how we define proficiency and how we will measure growth. When a student knows where they are headed as well as their current level of functioning, they can work as their teacher to develop a meaningful plan to reach their goals. I also believe it is imperative to scaffold learning outcomes in a manner that increases complexity over time. I start with ensuring acquisition of content knowledge and then create opportunities for analysis and application of that knowledge to unique real-world problems.

Engaging and innovative research based instructional strategies

Students must be actively engaged with material in order to achieve high levels of learning. Students should find the information and activities challenging and yet engaging. Lectures that provide information that can be found in a text or with a simple Google search are ineffective. Although I employ a variety of strategies depending on the needs of my students, I have found particular success with a project or problem based approach. According to the Buck Institute for Education, Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge. Unlike the older methods of “doing projects” at the end of a unit, Project and Problem Based Learning as we know it now, allows teachers to work in a collaborative manner with students who are engaged in deep learning. I view myself as a collaborator with students and a facilitator rather than a lecturer.


Effective use of formative assessment and feedback to personalize the learning process

The research of John Hattie has allowed educators to demystify the learning process and his simple statement of “know thy impact” is my driver for teaching. Hattie’s synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses of educational research tells us that we should focus on the strategies and practices with the highest impact. Providing feedback and effective use of formative assessment are among the highest leverage strategies that a teacher can employ. Feedback must be honest, accurate and delivered in a caring manner intended to convey essential information about the learner’s current level of functioning and progress. Similarly, using a variety of methods to gather formative data allows me to tailor instruction to the needs of the group as well as individuals.


Trusting relationship between teacher and learners that fosters perseverance The very act of teaching implies that there is a respectful and trusting relationship between the instructor and the learner. As a teacher, I must create an environment where every student feels valued and appreciated. The environment needs to encourage risk taking, and an understanding that failure is part of the learning process. It is only from these failures that we understand our misconceptions and are able to engage in a process of deep learning. Allowing our students multiple opportunities and methods to show proficiency, taking the time to get to know students personally, and working individually with students when possible are methods that build trust.

Education has been my passion for my entire life. I care deeply about improving outcomes for all learners and ensuring that everyone has an opportunity for success, no matter their level of background knowledge when they begin. I have worked as a practitioner in several of the most prestigious school systems in the country and while I was an administrator, ensured that I had day-to-day contact with teachers and students. I am proud to be a collaborative educator who believes in the power of working with my colleagues and using data to improve my own practice and the outcomes for students. I also believe that building positive relationships with my students is the key to the personalization of learning and ensuring that every student for whom I am responsible learns at high levels.

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Effective School Board Communicate a Common Vision

Shared By Laurie Kimbrel   /     Feb 27, 2016  /     Blog, Laurie Kimbrel, Laurie Kimbrel Superintendent, Laurie Kimbrel Tamalpais, Uncategorized  /     Comments Off on Effective School Board Communicate a Common Vision

by Laurie Kimbrel

An effective school board collectively understands that their communication sets the tone for communication and culture in the district and community. The board members are the elected educational leaders in the community and therefore, others take their cues from the board. Once a school board has determined that they share a common vision, also known as unity of purpose, their job is to communicate that vision articulately and with consistency. Even if the vision statement is a few sentences and has a locally appropriate tone, it should boil down to the absolute fact that schools exist to cause learning for students. Schools do not exist for the comfort or convenience of adults and therefore, a good statement of vision or purpose is student centered.


Problems occur when a rogue board member or two agree with the vision or purpose statement in a meeting of the board but then contradict it during subsequent small group or individual conversations. This obviously causes division among the board because these types of contradictions almost always make it back to the larger group, often through the superintendent. It is appropriate, and healthy to debate how we will achieve our purpose, but it creates or contributes to a toxic culture when board members disagree with the purpose of the organization to which they previously publically agreed.


When individual board members publicly contradict the board’s stated purpose, it is the role of the board president to gently remind the member that he or she agreed to the stated purpose, and many cases, signed off on the stated purpose, in a public meeting of the board. Most often, board members are well-intentioned and good- hearted individuals who don’t understand the problems with these types of statements or even that they made such a statement.


There are many examples of board members who either intentionally or not, make a statement that goes against the grain of the board’s stated purpose.   Suppose a board member has an individual conversation with a teacher who complains that some students are too difficult to teach. If the board member responds that he or she agrees and that some students are just “slackers” that “don’t want” to learn, then he or she was now just made a statement that directly contradicts that board’s stated purpose that we ensure that all students learn (not just the ones for whom it comes easy). Similarly, the board member who is in conversation with parents who are complaining that “those students” should not be in the same class with “my child” because it makes it too difficult for “my child” to learn. If the board member agrees that some students can’t or won’t learn, then again, he or she has directly contradicted the board’s vision of all students learning at high levels.


Again, it is the role of the board president to have a conversation with a board member who communicates in this manner. There are really two options to proceed. The board can re-visit its purpose and alter it to accommodate dissenting views or the individual board members can monitor their own communication so that they do not publically disagree with the previously agreed to direction of the board. If this sort of communication continues, it erodes the effectiveness of the board and the ability of the administration to lead the district.


Effective school boards operate openly, with trust and integrity. Board members should express their opinions, openly and without reserve at the board table, during public open meetings. These meetings are the opportunity to share opinions and to shape the direction of the district. All too often, I have seen board members agree at the meeting and then have conversations later that contradict their public statements.   The subsequent erosion of trust with staff and the community is very difficult to repair.


In conclusion, the superintendent and board president must regularly include discussion of organizational purpose on public board meeting agendas so that all members, as well as the community, have an opportunity to weigh in and created a purpose that truly everyone can stand behind, both in board meetings and in conversations after the fact.

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College Readiness – ­Dec Req Part Two

Shared By Laurie Kimbrel   /     Feb 15, 2016  /     Blog, Laurie Kimbrel, Laurie Kimbrel Superintendent, Laurie Kimbrel Tamalpais  /     Comments Off on College Readiness – ­Dec Req Part Two

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View Laurie Kimbrel Superintendent Profile, Images, blog, news and a lot more. Laurie Kimbrel Superintendent at Tamalpais Union High School has a passion for preparing students and helping them turn into first class citizens having benefitted from a world­class education.


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  • About Laurie Kimbrel

    The current project manager for the Atlanta K-12 Design Challenge, Laurie Kimbrel is an educator with many years’ experience. Before undertaking this position in 2015, Kimbrel served as Superintendent of the Tamalpais Union High School District in Larkspur, California, where she oversaw 4,200 students, 435 staff members, and managed a $63 million budget. Among other achievements under Laurie Kimbrel’s tenure, the district implemented a leadership model that formed Professional Learning Communities designed to augment teacher effectiveness through shared assessment data.

    Kimbrel holds a bachelor of science in music and business from Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois. She also received a master of science in special education from Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois, and completed her education with leadership-based doctoral studies at Loyola University in Chicago.

    Dedicated to her community, Laurie Kimbrel is a hospice volunteer and works with nonprofits aimed at ensuring every child has access to great teachers and schools. She is also passionate about education reform and champions efforts to bring about effective hiring practices in schools.

  • Education & Publications


    Loyola University Chicago - Doctorate, Curriculum & Instruction

    National Louis University, Certificate of Advanced Study, Educational Leadership

    Dominican University, Master of Science, Special Education

    Millikin University, Bachelor of Science, Music and Business

    It's a Man's World: How to Achieve Success as a Woman in High School District, AASA Women in Leadership Conference, 2013

    How to Run a Clean Construction Program, California School Board Convention, 2012

    A Transition Success Story: California School Boards Association Conference, 2009

    Program Growth and High Achievement: College Board National Conference, 2008

    Building Leadership Capacity through Effective Staffing Planning, Illinois Association of Personnel Administrators Conference, 2008

    Improving Student Achievement: Illinois NCLB Conference, 2007

    Conducting Effective Workplace Investigations: Lake County Personnel Administrators Conference, 2007

    The Impact of Proactive Classroom Management, Doctoral Dissertation, Loyola University, 2002

  • Community Service

    Laurie Kimbrel volunteers for a number of community organizations including Bristol Hospice as a patient volunteer, Destiny's Daughter's of Promise as a student mentor and Students First as an advocate for effective educational practices.
  • Contact Laurie Kimbrel