School Governance - Underlying Principles


Among the many productive ways in which a Board of Trustees may demonstrate good school governance there are a few bedrock principles. This statement confines itself to these principles. It makes no attempt to define best practices in implementing them, but rather proposes that actions or policies based on these principles will add value to the school the Board serves.

  1. A strong Board of Trustees works together. The board is seen by all trustees as being greater than the sum of the individuals it comprises. Discussion may be lively, even contentious, but the decision of the Board trumps individual opinion, and the principle of mutual respect always applies. The ethos and tenor of the Board is collaborative and united, always holding the school’s mission in tight focus as the basis of all actions and decisions.
  2. Members of a strong Board of Trustees set aside their own special interests. Each trustee adds value through personal attributes and experience, and of course brings all of these to the table. But each trustee must also subordinate the personal to the good of the overall institution. This is hardest, and also most important, for trustees who are parents of students currently in the school.
  3. A strong Board of Trustees offers solid support to Head, administration, faculty and school. In the context of this support it is essential both to ask searching questions and to provide appropriate, constructive criticism. It is no less essential to avoid sharing negative perceptions with non-trustees or any form of gossip with anyone.
  4. A strong Board of Trustees puts tremendous care into hiring the right Head. The Head is the only person at the school hired and reviewed by the Board, with a contract renewed (or not renewed) as the Board sees fit. The initial selection is therefore among the Board’s most critical responsibilities to the school community.
  5. A strong Board of Trustees is then careful not to try to do the Head’s job. Rather it supports the Head’s efforts in every way possible, including through constructive criticism and careful evaluation.
  6. A strong Board of Trustees expects accurate and complete information from the Head. There should be full disclosure of appropriate information in both directions and no surprises.
  7. A strong Board of Trustees is led by a strong Chair, who develops a positive and productive relationship with the Head. A component of this relationship is to acknowledge that mistakes will be made by both; the goal is to learn from them and move beyond them, not to pretend they will not or did not happen. By the same token, the Chair must also be able to deal, honestly and effectively, with Board members who hijack Board discussions and/or administrative time with personal issues or agendas.
  8. A strong Board of Trustees is one in which real discussion is followed by real decision. Board leaders and the Head work hard to make sure Board meetings are engaging and meaningful, offering opportunities to move the school forward in directions that are agreed to be valuable and important. Members attend meetings faithfully, having carefully reviewed all distributed information. They express and resolve their ideas and differences within Board meetings – and leave them there. Confidentiality is an essential ingredient of Board effectiveness.
  9. A strong Board of Trustees thinks strategically, with one eye always on the institution’s future. This thinking is embodied in providing the financial resources of the school, and in long range planning that embraces input from all school constituencies. Members also participate in the full range of school fundraising activities, and recognize that their own level of giving is one of the keys to the school’s success.
  10. Finally, a strong Board of Trustees builds trust in the community by developing a track record of trustworthy action and transparent communication. In this regard it is essential that both Board and Head fully endorse and take responsibility for not just their own but each other’s actions and communications.

NYSAIS Board of Trustees, June 2005
Heads and Chairs of NYSAIS member schools should disseminate these Principles to members of their boards.

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