Recently I had the privilege of watching two of CSI’s boards meet together to wrestle over some major decisions with regard to CSI’s US pension.
Members of the CSI Board of Trustees and the US Pension Board all thought the issue was so important that they traveled from all over the US and Canada in order to come together to discuss the issues face to face. For six hours these two boards deliberated, weighed the data, discussed options, and heard the feedback they received from many of you.
I was struck by the commitment and sacrifice of these folks: believers in Christ and believers in Christian education, working to support the community of CSI. They do this without pay and sometimes under great stress, and they do it because they believe in CSI and the community of schools that make up CSI. I saw the same commitment from my wonderful board when I was a school superintendent, and I’ve seen it throughout our CSI schools in the US and Canada.
Lately, CSI has been receiving many requests for board workshops, policy reviews, and assessment visits, and we have honored every one we’ve received. We are in the process of developing a multi-faceted program that will help address common issues of governance and policy, as well as looking at ways to provide professional development for the boards of our member schools. This includes reinvigorating our conferences for heads of school and board presidents—but more on that in the future.
There are many great resources out there for boards, but here is a short list of important truisms for healthy and effective board leadership. If individuals on the board hold to these standards, boards will avoid becoming dysfunctional and stay true to their strategic purpose of ensuring their school is thriving.
Truisms of Trusteeship
- Individual trustees have no authority.
One of the easiest to mess up! Remember, the board is a corporate body. Only the board, at a properly called meeting, can conduct business. If trustees meet away from the board table to discuss or conduct business, they do so without authority.
- Trustees must maintain proper channels.
Since I served 25 years in the military, this is a “no-brainer” for me, but for many this is difficult. Remember that outside of the board room, trustees are no different from anyone else. For example, board members cannot walk into a classroom without coordinating this with the administration of the school.
- Trustees must maintain confidentiality.
What happens in the board room stays in the board room. Resist the urge to share what you’ve heard, especially as a well-meaning “prayer request.”
- Trustees are in place to serve the school, not their own agendas or special interests.
Trustees are in place for three reasons: to uphold and support the mission and vision of the school, to advance the strategic future of the school, and to provide for the financial security and sustainability of the school. Trustees who are on the board to promote their personal agenda, to lobby for their child to receive some special treatment, or to advocate for a specific program may want to reexamine their motives.
- Trustees should avoid conflicts of interest.
Many of our board members are also business owners or have families that own businesses. Be very careful about contracts and services provided to the school. I have had many board members graciously donate their services, but have also heard of some strange real estate and construction conversations that crossed the line. Follow the law! (Board members must sign a conflict of interest document as part of board orientation.)
- Trustees should engage in the open and honest exchange of information.
I’ve always told my board and staff two things: I don’t like surprises, and bad news does not get better with age. If an issue is known, don’t roll it out in the boardroom out of the blue, and don’t hide bad news hoping it will get better! Put it on the agenda and allow people to become informed so the board can deal with it in a thoughtful and thorough manner.
- Comments and actions by trustees should always focus on the best interest of the school and community.
“The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark” (James 3:5).The stories I could tell, as I’m sure you can as well. A great man once taught me, “Do not pass up the opportunity to keep your mouth shut.” If a trustee is unable to say something positive, saying nothing is the best answer.
- Trustees should allow administrators to do their jobs.
The board controls the direction and priorities of the school. The head of school is responsible to the board to see that the mission, philosophy, and vision are implemented.Let the experts you’ve hired to run the school actually run the school. The board should evaluate them on how they are doing that based on predetermined expectations, but should stay out of the way and let them do their jobs in the best way they know how.
– Joel Westa