Six Critical Governance Issues We Often Ignore in Our Schools
By Eric Cook
- The relationship between the board chair and the head of school is the most important relationship in the school. To build trust and work together, this relationship needs time and attention. Unfortunately, the average tenure for a head of school is still short (3-6 years), leading to frequent turnover. It is vital to have a board chair who can work with the Head of School for an extended period, providing stability and support. I spoke to a board chair today who has been in his role for 12 years. His head of school has been in her role for over 25. This is not an accident, but it is a rarity. If we keep recycling board chairs, we will keep recycling heads of school.
- The Governance Committee, which many boards do not have (or know exists), is the most important committee on a board. This committee helps the board manage leadership and officer transitions, proposes optimal term limits, educates the board about good governance, and evaluates the board’s effectiveness. If boards will educate themselves on these simple, accessible practices, boards can benefit schools, leaders, and ultimately the students we serve, in ways beyond measure.
- The average board chair serves a two-year term. This is a mistake. The head of school suffers the most from this turnover gauntlet. It takes time to figure out what a chair does, and by the time they do, they are out of their role. Term limits were created to get rid of bad trustees. If board members become ineffective, lazy, or rogue, ask them to step off. But, don’t create systemic dysfunction because we don’t like having hard conversations.
- Board member terms have become shorter as boards have become busier. Why can’t a board chair serve longer than two years? Because they are exhausted and asked to do things that the Governance Committee should be doing.
- The vast majority of Heads do not survive their fourth board chair. If the average board chair term is two years, we can see why head tenure is short as well. The math is simple. Maybe the solution is not that complicated either.
- Short head of school tenures keep schools from thriving. Head turnover is disruptive, it hurts faculty morale, it costs a fortune, it breeds distrust and resistance to change, and it makes the next head’s job harder.
Unfortunately, many of our schools continue to perpetuate a broken system. We cannot ignore these foundational best practices if we want our classical Christian schools to thrive. At SCL, we can help you figure this out. If you are interested in learning more about how one of our consultants can walk you through these issues, please reach out to Marissa Yanaga (firstname.lastname@example.org) to set up a call.