School Head Clarity—Leading Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

School Head Clarity—Leading Through the COVID-19 Pandemic
School Head Clarity—Leading Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

School Heads

This week we’re sharing three articles about School Heads, Trustees, and campus reopening. Read the other articles on Board leadership and barriers that impact crisis-driven decision-making.


A positive relationship between the School Head and the Board is fundamental to ensure the future of a private school. During a crisis, this relationship becomes even more vital to the school’s success.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented an emergency like no other. It is not just a school crisis; it is worldwide. Every school constituent group is feeling stress and anxiety, creating one of the most challenging environments of our lives. As the School Head, consider the following ways to partner with your Board during this crisis.

  1. Set priorities. The primary goal is to reopen the school. Whether in-person, online, or a hybrid model, there is much work to do. You must focus on this single issue. There are always multiple tasks at hand; however, this environment is very fluid, making firm decisions and focus difficult. Help the Board understand these unique challenges. Split priorities into two groups—those that are vital and those that can be delayed. Ask the Head Support and Evaluation Committee (HSEC) for their support and input.
  2. Communicate more often and meet less frequently. Things are moving and changing quickly. The School Head should work closely with the HSEC, communicating regularly. Ask the Chair of this Committee to stay in frequent contact with the full Board. The smaller group will help limit interruptions. Work closely with your direct reports and task them with assignments carefully, maximizing efficiency for everyone. Ask the Board Chair to limit all meetings and decisions to those that are necessary until school reopens. If you are in your first year as School Head, this will be especially difficult, as you need time with your Board to build trust. Communicate with your Board Chair and HSEC members, helping them understand what you need and when. This will help everyone gain confidence and understanding.
  3. Educate the Board. Most independent school Board members are not educators and do not understand the unique aspects of school cultures. Send Trustees articles, especially those that deal with the pandemic environment. This helps them keep abreast of trends, ensuring they are “in the know” during this challenging time. Many listen to the news, which is frequently public-school focused. This can be misleading, not reflecting what is truly important in our unique market. Sending them independent school-specific information will help them stay knowledgeable about current issues facing our schools. Consider sending articles about virtual learning as well. This is an opportunity for Board members to learn how effective online learning can be.
  4. Prepare the Board for financial uncertainty. The need for agile decision-making may require more financial resources than you expected when the budget was created. Ask the Finance Committee to evaluate the resources available for capital and operating expenses. Besides budgeting for more COVID-19-related expenses, it may be necessary to get approval for a discretionary emergency fund.
  5. Present a united front. You will likely have to make one or more unpopular decisions regarding how your school will look this fall. Work closely with the HSEC and ask the HSEC to work closely with the Board. The Board must show support during these difficult times—remember to share the burden of these challenging decisions with your Board when appropriate. No one person has shoulders broad enough to carry all school leadership responsibilities—make sure you share the load.
  6. Divide and conquer. Are there items on your to-do list that others (administrators or Board members) can take off your hands? Whether it is asking for donations or researching the local laws affecting your plan approval, people are there to help you. Be proactive—ask for help rather than waiting for someone to step up. This is a time when the Board may need to get involved in operations. As the School Head, direct that involvement.

Drastic times call for drastic measures. If schools have ever faced difficulty, it is now. While you, as the School Head, are responsible for all decisions, it’s impractical to think you can manage this situation alone.

Ask the Head Support and Evaluation Committee for whatever you need to help the school navigate these days. And take some time to take care of yourself, too.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT FOR PRIVATE SCHOOL LEADERS

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