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FastStats 2018: Essential Questions for Trustees

Tuesday, September 18, 2018  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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By Dr. Jeffrey Mitchell, Head of School, Currey Ingram Academy, Brentwood, TN

Published: September 2018



Do your trustees know the answers to these questions? 

     What is the total budget of your school? 

     How does enrollment compare with benchmarks? 

     Is tuition rising in line with inflation?

     What is the tuition remission policy?

     What are the starting, median and highest teacher salaries?


For this first Faststats of 2018-2019, a strategy and process are presented that help the head of school keep trustees up-to-speed on the answers to essential questions. I have found that keeping a list of essential questions, and the data that answers the questions, to be helpful. 

The goal: one document that houses all your current essential questions and also provides the answers to the questions, or, active links to graphs or charts that answer the questions.This places a considerable amount of useful information at your fingertips so you can react quickly and with purpose to the issues of the day. 

Over the past ten years my essential questions document has morphed according to the strategic direction and initiatives at play. What’s in the document depends on the most recent strategic plan, whether we are in an accreditation cycle, the board’s goals for a given year, and my goals for a given year. So it’s best to think of an essential question document as a document in process, that mirrors your strategic conversations. 

For example, just last week I wanted to share key retention/attrition data with our board planning committee as we take a deep dive into the retention challenge at Currey Ingram Academy. A few keystrokes in the essential questions document and the data were shared.

Additionally, usually at the beginning of the school year, I review the data en masse with our trustees. Realizing that not all find data as interesting as I do, I try to make the sharing of the essential questions and answers “fun.” For example, I have used the popular Kahoot classroom quiz software. This software allows the facilitator to create a “game show” question and answer situation fostering a little friendly competition in the boardroom. 

To give you a sense of what is in an essential questions document, below are a few of the questions I’ve collected over the years. The questions span broad areas of functioning from governance, to finance, to admission, and to development. You will notice as you read that some questions are easily answered and others require delving into data sources such as DASL.  

Example Essential Questions

1. What are the priorities of the current strategic plan?

2. Is there a strategic financial plan? (See ISM’s Ideas & Perspectives Your Strategic Financial Plan: Expenditure Control for the Long Run Vol. 36 No. 38 for an excellent template.)

3. What are the board subcommittees?

4. How many acres is the campus?

5. What is the square footage of indoor and outdoor space per student? This is a telling statistic, easily calculated by dividing your overall area by the overall enrollment. 

6. What is the operating surplus/deficit?

7. How does tuition compare with benchmarks? 

8. What is the expenditure on professional development? As an example, below is the graph for this question. The data is derived from DASL and linked in the essential questions document. Currey Ingram (green line) is compared over the past 15 years with benchmarks: All NAIS Schools (blue); and, two customized comparison groups I created in DASL, which are meaningful to us as a college prep independent school with an LD focus.



9. Are there profit centers and what do they net? 

10. How does the annual fund total compare with benchmarks?

11. What is the current parent participation in the annual fund vs. benchmarks?

12. What is the amount dedicated to need-based financial aid? 

13. How many students does your budgeted amount for financial aid serve?

14. How do salaries compare with benchmarks?

15. How do our personnel counts compare with benchmarks?

16. What does our key admission data tell us? For example, application, acceptance, yield and retention rates. 


Schools can access mountains of data. But we certainly do not have the time and the resources to harvest all of it. Creating an essential questions process is a means to have some of your most important data on-hand. 

Doing so garners the appreciation of your busy and often data-savvy trustees because they feel better informed to make important strategic decisions. Doing so also clearly conveys to your trustees that you are doing your due diligence as you frame the strategic direction of the school. Feel free to use any of the questions noted to start or add to your essential questions document.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this or any other FastStats topic.



Dr. Jeffrey Mitchell is the head of Currey Ingram Academy in Brentwood, TN. He can be reached via email. 



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