How does my charter school board establish a written Code of Ethics?

Hope is not an effective strategy for nurturing ethical behavior in charter school board members. Effective boards spend time reflecting on what it means to act ethically in a school leadership role. They memorialize their conclusions in a written code of ethics, identify the specific commitments they must make to one another to hold themselves accountable to the code, and they regularly revisit their pledges to emphasize their importance.

This article highlights a five-step process that charter boards can use to establish and protect the standards by which they intend to govern their institution.

Step 1: Reflection

Charter school boards should convene a work session during which they review the rationale for establishing a written code of ethics. Following this review, the members should reflect individually on the specific statements they believe should be included in the board’s code of ethics, and they should write their recommendations on 3 X 5 index cards (one idea per card). As they complete this task, they should consider numerous groups that board behavior affects: students, parents, community, staff, administration, and other board members. Once they exhaust their individual ideas, the board members should turn the cards over and identify the commitments that must be made to one another if they are to live by the suggested ethical standard. The completed cards should be put aside for future use during the session.

Step 2: Review of Potential Standards

The charter school board members should then review several sample codes from other schools to broaden their perspectives on what could be included in their final document. This will expose them to statements like the following:

  • I shall recognize that authority rests with the board of education and will make no personal promises nor take any private action that may compromise the board.
  • I shall vote my conscience and then support the majority decision of the board.
  • I shall refer all complaints, comments, and criticism through the proper chain of command

The board should return to their individual set of 3 X 5 index cards and add any new idea stimulated by the review of sample documents.

Step 3: Identify Ethical Standards and Commitments

Board members should review one another’s recommendations one card at a time in round-robin style. As cards are shared, they should be placed in the center of the table, and if other participants have similar statements, those cards should be placed under the card just reviewed. This process avoids cluttering the table with duplicate ideas.

Once all unique suggestions are exhausted, the participants should begin discussing each card to determine which standards should be included in the final document. The team should record their decisions on a form that also requires the group to specify the commitments they must make to one another to realize their standards.

The board member should use the contents of the form to generate the first draft of their code of ethics. This can be done by the entire group, or it can be assigned to one or two individual board members, who will present the document to the full board for review and modification.

Step 4: Adopt Code of Ethics and Review Schedule

Once the Code of Ethics is in final form, the charter school board should formally adopt the document as board policy, and it should adopt a formal review process to ensure that the document remains a living tool for the board.

Step 5: Establish Accountability Procedures

The charter school board should also identify specific procedures and expectations for holding one another accountable for complying with the code of ethics. These procedures should delineate at least the following:

  • A process for periodically reviewing the code of ethics to ensure that the principles are “fresh” in everyone’s mind as the make critical decisions for the school.
  • Procedures for including a detailed review of the code as part of new board member orientations.
  • A process for making a review of the code part of the board’s annual self-evaluation.
  • A process for holding one another accountable for adhering to the code.

Honesty, trust, fairness, and integrity are too important to leave to chance. Charter school boards should be crystal clear about their commitment to hold themselves accountable to the highest ethical standards. We love to talk ethics - Contact us today – or 330-800-6363.

This article is published by Yvonne Adkins of Adkins & Company, a Kentucky based consulting group. We position charter schools for success by providing access to high quality services and expertise for boards, operators and authorizers.

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