It was late on a Friday afternoon in southern California. The sky was crystal clear with a light breeze. Under such ideal conditions, going inside a building for a school board retreat is difficult because your mind keeps urging to linger outside a little longer.
The invitations were sent out to the board members two months ago, followed by reminders every few weeks. Delicious snacks were delivered and setup by the spouse of the chief administrator (including peanut M&M's--the best!). The room was thoughtfully arranged in an effort to foster productive conversation.After a few years of inconsistent leadership and complacency among the board members, the administration had high hopes that this could be the start of a new day for the school. They were confident that if the board understood more about the real issues that impact enrollment, fundraising, and governance, then they would be more committed to the board and the roles that were needed.
Unfortunately, only half of the trustees made the board retreat a priority. Though they all originally agreed on the need to schedule such a time of relationship building and professional development, other matters became more important in the meantime. The half who did participate gained a new perspective on the complexities of school design and growth. They engaged actively in the dialogue and produced a healthy set of goals for the board and for the school.
At the conclusion of the retreat, the chief administrator addressed the key issue: "How do we energize and engage ALL of our board members?"
It's not the job of the administration to act as a defibrillator for the board. Sustainable energy for the school boardbegins with a well constructed organization that has effective leadership. With humility and relentless commitment, they will seek to understand the best practice of board and administrative roles and responsibilities. The most effective boards ambitiously grow as a high performing team that is constantly learning.
A great board begins with the right people--select leaders who have a demonstrated passion for and commitment to the stated mission, culture, strategies, and structures of the school. The board chair is the most critical position, requiring a person with a unique combination of talent and interpersonal skills who is able to cultivate a healthy relationship with the other board members and especially with the chief administrator.
Very few schools are able to outgrow the leadership capacity of the governing board. That's why building a talented, energized, and engaged board is a consistent priority among the most successful and sustainable schools.