Respectful and Constructive Board/School Head Relationships

Vol. 16 No. 2

trustees eletter vol16 no2 respect

Boards can have excellent relationships with their School Heads, based on three core principles, which charge the Board to:

  • treat the Head in a predictable and supportive fashion;
  • work reciprocally—that is, carrying out its own duties with the same assiduousness as is expected of the Head; and
  • ensure that it operates strategically to allow the Head to act operationally.

When new Trustees come to the Board, part of their orientation process must be to understand the special relationship the Board has with the Head. Coming from a business environment as many Board members do, it should be clear to them that in private-independent schools:

  • the Head is the sole employee of the Board as a whole;
  • the Head is there to operate the school on a day-to-day basis, often through and with a Management Team, and has total authority in personnel areas; and
  • the job of the Board is to publicly accept, respect, and outspokenly support the school administrators.

The Board is responsible for the school’s long-term institutional viability. It must exercise consistent discipline to ensure there is always an updated strategic plan. All other planning documents and the Board’s and Head’s own agendas derive from this plan. The result is consistency between the Board and the Head, assuring both parties that they are headed in a united direction.

Use the Head’s administrative agenda as the basis for evaluation. This strategic, mission-based document outlines the four major and six minor objectives the Board expects the Head to accomplish over the coming year.

Derived as they largely are from the Board’s strategic plan, which the Board and Head worked on together, this line of planning ensures alignment of goals and unity of purpose. From the Head’s view, he or she is provided expectations that foster success yet do not require perfection.

Set up the Head Support and Evaluation Committee. The HSEC is the best way of providing meaningful Head evaluation. This three-person Committee of the Board is the success team designed to ensure the Head’s fulfillment of the planning document’s operational-level goals. It provides a sounding board (and sometimes a “sounding off” board) where the Head can bring issues and get advice.

The HSEC is a key factor in creating a predictable, supportive environment. Review the Head’s compensation package yearly to ensure the school remains competitive. This is important in terms of showing the Head that he or she is valued and appreciated.

Setting up Board/School Head relationships within this framework creates a pattern that reinforces the partnership between the school’s professional leader and its governing body. It mitigates the chance of personality conflicts and misunderstandings on critical issues, creates the fertile soil for success, and maintains the school's stable governmental structure.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Trustees Vol. 11 No. 10 How to Enhance Board-Head Relationships
The Source for Trustees Vol. 13 No. 3 The ‘Marriage’ of the Board President and School Head
The Source for Trustees Vol. 13 No. 9 The School Head’s File: Keeping Tabs on Your Employee

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 39 No. 16 The Board’s Role in the School Head’s Personnel Decisions
I&P Vol. 42 No. 8 The Head Support and Evaluation Committee: An Update
I&P Vol. 41 No. 13 School Head Evaluation: Essential Expectations

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