Sustaining your charter school board’s membership

Few charter school board members like to waste their time just going through the motions of governing their schools. They need to know that investment of time and talent is making their school a better place for the children they serve. Without this assurance, their interest in governance will wane, and the stability of the board will be threatened. This article underscores the importance of efficacy in board member retention.

At his confirmation hearing in 2009, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “Quality education… is the civil rights issue of our generation. It is the only path out of poverty, the only road to a more equal, just and fair society. In fact, I believe the fight for quality education is about much more than education. It’s a fight for social justice. I come to this work with three deeply held beliefs.

First, that every child from every background absolutely can be successful. Rural, suburban, urban, gifted, special education, English language learner, poor, minority – it simply doesn’t matter… When we as adults do our job and give them opportunities to succeed, all of our children can be extraordinarily successful. Second, when we fail to properly educate children we, as educators, perpetuate poverty and perpetuate social failure… And third, our children have one chance – one chance at a quality education, so we must work with an extraordinary sense of urgency. Simply put, we cannot wait because they cannot wait.”1

Secretary Duncan’s compelling words reinforce the difference that effective, engaged charter school board members can make in their schools, communities, and in the future of the children they serve. Unfortunately, this significance can be blurred when boards spend the majority of their time on mundane agenda items. To nurture everyone’s efficacy, school leaders and experienced board member must insist that board meetings focus on the most important work at hand - student learning and fiscal responsibility.

Participants must connect the dots between the roles and responsibilities of the board and the accomplishments of students and staff, so that everyone realizes the fruits of their labors. This should not be left to chance. School leaders and board members should consider doing the following to increase the likelihood that these connections are made:

  1. Use a consent agenda to expedite the routine matters of the board, thereby increasing the time available for rich discussion of more important topics.
  2. Revisit the school’s mission and vision frequently over the course of a school year to remain tethered to the principles upon which the school is established.
  3. Determine an appropriate amount of time to spend discussing specific aspects of the students’ academic performance at every board meeting.
  4. Review designated financial key performance indicators at every meeting, noting the degree to which the school’s finances are consistent with projections, reviewing all significant deviations from the expected, and discussing required actions to correct any shortfalls.
  5. Engage in an annual board self-evaluation designed to reveal the governance team’s strengths and challenges. Based on the self-evaluation, establish specific improvement objectives and the commitments required to accomplish those objectives.
  6. Establish a focused set of 3-5 annual performance objectives with anticipated constraints, specific evaluative criteria, performance milestones, and completion timelines.
  7. Formally, discuss the following question at least quarterly: How are we as the governing team of our school making a significant difference in the lives of those we serve?

Remember that stability of leadership is important to school success. Invest the time to reflect on the important work that you do. Talk about the differences that you make for your students, staff, and communities. Remind one another that your work does matter!

1 Washington Post, 2009

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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