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Crafting an Effective School Board

Wednesday, January 10, 2018  
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By Christina Mimms, SAIS

A school’s relationship with its board requires careful management by the head of school. While the rules about school governance are clear, the board plays an important role in the financial well-being of the school as well as fund-raising, strategic planning, and visioning.

When it comes to assembling a solid board of trustees, the school must annually review its current members’ skills and experience, according to Robin Cabral, owner of Development Consulting Solutions. A school may want to employ a self-assessment tool to review current board members’ performance to determine if their service should continue past their current term, if they are eligible to serve another term. Term limits should be strictly enforced.

Once a school has determined who stays and who retires from the board, a governance committee within the board should examine any gaps to fill regarding the skills of the board. The skills should be based on the legal and moral responsibilities of school governance as well as the school’s mission and needs. Boards may include financial experts, attorneys, experienced fund-raisers, human resources specialists, and marketing experts. Depending on the current state of the school, and whether a campaign or construction project is looming, boards may want to invite real estate or construction experts to join.

Recruiting new board members may start with an exploratory type of interview to gauge interest of potential members and determine whether their skills fit the current needs and the mission. At that time, the interviewers should share the school’s current challenges and opportunities available with the candidates to see how they respond. The potential candidates also should be informed about board retreats and meeting dates so that they know how much time will be committed to their service.

Once the new board members are selected, the school should conduct an orientation to share the school’s mission, vision, organizational flow, list of board committees, and the responsibilities of the trustee. Many schools use an experienced external consultant for this type of program. In addition, some schools may require trustees to sign a contract of commitment.

With a new board in place, the schedule of meetings will begin. Some school boards meet monthly while others meet less often, depending on the needs of the school. Prior to meetings, the head of school may wish to send a report about current achievements of students and/or faculty, new developments in school life, and other positive news. Any negative issues should be shared separately with the board chair or committees. If larger issues, such as enrollment decline, warrant placement on the board meeting agenda, they can be discussed openly with opportunity to answer questions orally rather than via email.

Many schools may regard their boards as somewhat faceless individuals, quietly working behind the scenes. Trustees who also are school parents are fairly visible in the community, but non-parents may not be as well-known or engaged in school life. To combat that, schools may wish to plan a day for trustees to visit the classrooms and get to know teachers and students in their daily lives. Some schools even hold a “Trustee Appreciation Day” with meet-and-greet opportunities for parents and board members. Others may occasionally profile a board member in their school publications.

Opportunities to engage board members in the school will lead to greater communication and more informed decision-making by the individuals who accept the call to serve on a school board. Their success will be the school’s success in furthering its mission.

SAIS President Dr. Kirk Walker is available to visit your school to conduct on-campus workshops for your board. 

For additional information about working with boards, visit

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Institute for Heads
June 19-22, 2018 | Asheville, NC
This retreat offers an opportunity for thoughtful dialogue and engagement with colleagues on key issues facing heads of school and their spouses.

Dean of Students Symposium
June 27-29, 2018 | Asheville, NC
Develop a network of peers, discuss best practices on current issues, and gather practical ideas from colleagues.

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