Committees are the linchpins of an effective Board. When Board meetings are well-attended, purposeful, and gratifying, this foundation usually grows out of understanding and applying the principles of properly establishing committees. The key to success is identifying, recruiting, and managing strong leaders—a critical role shared by the Board President, the Committee on Trustees, and the School Head. Committees are only as strong as the people who lead them.
You, a new Trustee, walk across the school parking lot for a meeting with the School Head. You’re approached by a mother who immediately launches into a tirade about the fourth-grade teacher. “Tom, my child isn’t being treated fairly, and I expect you to do something about it!”
Sound familiar? In some schools, parents often contact Trustees with their complaints. They see Board members as the top of the power structure and, therefore, the best path to results. In turn, Trustees—out of an understandable desire to be cooperative and helpful, or an inability to say “no” to a concerned and demanding parent, or a basic misunderstanding of their role in the life of the school—often leap into the fray.
An incumbent Board President often steps down as a new Head takes over. It is seen as a logical time for the transfer of power—allowing a long-term relationship to develop between the new Head and a new President. The next President is selected by the Trustees without the Head-elect’s input. (What input could be knowledgeably given?)
However, the new Head may well have been influenced to accept the job based on the “chemistry” demonstrated with the existing President and key Trustees on the Search Committee. A new President changes all of this. Moreover, if other leading Trustees move on at the same time, the team envisioned by the new Head is greatly altered.
The recent PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools indicates shifting attitudes concerning the value of higher education. According to the survey, fewer than half of the parent respondents (48%) considered college education as “very important.”
The budget is a chief responsibility of the Finance Committee, and budgetary activity is ongoing. Oversight of the current budget is simultaneous with development and approval of the next year’s budget. This duty alone calls for members with specific skills and backgrounds.
Start your school’s diversity efforts at the Board level. Here, diversity can be addressed without the kind of direct costs usually associated with achieving socioeconomic or socioethnic diversity in your student body, or diversity in your administration, faculty, and staff. As Board President, your starting point is in your planning document, every iteration of which should call for a Board profile to be developed to fit the strategic or long range plan. Open the way for a Board discussion of diversity, even for a broad topic like “Increase the socioeconomic and socioethnic diversity on the Board of Trustees.”
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