Board Chair & Head of School Relationship: How Does Your School Stack Up?
For each topic, check how your school stacks up.
- Level I: Common starting point
- Level II: Progressive performance
- Level III: Exemplary performance
The Head of School has a written contract which defines the scope of his/her accountability and a performance evaluation process.
- Level I – The Head of School does not have a written contract.
- Level II -The Head of School has a written contract, but the contract is not specific about the scope of accountability and does not define a formal evaluation process.
- Level III -The Head of School’s contract clearly specifies the scope of his/her role and accountability relative to that of the Board Chair and Board and specifies an annual Head of School evaluation process.
There are clear annual written goals for the Head of School.
- Level I – The Board’s expectations of the Head of School are not clear.
Level II – The Board President and the Head of School have informally discussed expectations but they have not been codified in writing; instead much of their interaction involves fighting fires.
Level III – The school has an up to date and approved strategic plan. The Board President and Head of School have codified specific annual goals for the Head of School consistent with that plan plus agreed on more tactical goals. These goals form the basis for evaluating the Head of School’s performance.
There is a process for Head of School support.
- Level I – There is no formal provision of Head of School support.
- Level II – The Head of School is permitted to hire a personal “coach” at school expense to help counsel him/her on how to optimize key constituency relationships, e.g., with the Board President/Chair, the Board at large, parents and staff, and overcome barriers to success.
- Level III – The Head of School is actively encouraged to hire a coach and in addition, there is a Head Support and Evaluation Committee comprised of Board members and community leaders who help the Head keep his/her ear to the ground and provide sage, unofficial counsel.
The Head of School and Board President/Chair have defined the details of the Head of School’s annual evaluation process.
- Level I – Head of School evaluation is only done when there are crises and because of this, it tends to be biased to a negative view of performance.
- Level II – There is an agreed requirement for regular Head of School evaluation but the evaluation has been put off for “lack of time.”
- Level III – There is an agreed annual Head of School evaluation process; it is implemented thoroughly and discreetly and in a positive tone; the Head of School finds it helpful and reinforcing; the Board finds that it is helping improve Head of School performance.
There is an agreed process for evaluating the Board.
- Level I – There is no formal process for the Board to evaluate its effectiveness.
- Level II – There is a process for Trustee self-evaluation although not for an overall evaluation of the Board’s effectiveness; the Board is not introspective about how to improve its own performance and tends to focus on criticizing the Head of School and staff.
- Level III – The Board follows a disciplined and regular process of evaluating its effectiveness including the effectiveness of the Board President and that of individual trustees; the results are used to enhance the quality and effectiveness and strategic focus of the Board and develop Board skills; as a result, being asked to join the Board is a coveted honor.
The relative roles and accountability of the Staff and Board are clear and understood by Board members and the School staff.
- Level I – The Board becomes very involved in a number of key operational arenas to the discomfort of the Staff and Head of School.
- Level II – The Board tries to focus on mission and policy related issues but individual Board members sometimes violate the spirit of this policy and dis-empower the staff and Head of School. When this happens the Head and Board Chair appropriately rebuke those members.
- Level III – The Board President and Head of School are aligned around the criticality of allowing the Head of School and staff to direct operational issues and this is emphasized actively by both in Board meetings and during Board development sessions; the Head of School and staff feel empowered and accountable and are comfortable asking for counsel from the Board when necessary.
Trustees orientation in responsibilities of Trustees and staff.
- Level I – There is a great deal of confusion among Trustees and school staff about who is responsible for what and no process for working through principles.
- Level II – New Trustees in their orientation process are informed about the fact that the Board’s role is to stick to mission, strategy, and the Board’s fiduciary responsibilities, but when specific issues come up there is a lack of clarity and both Board and staff feel reticent to assert themselves to avoid hurting feelings; therefore, balls get dropped.
- Level III – Board members receive thorough orientation and training about the relative roles of Board and staff upon joining the Board. Additionally, both the Board President and Head of School are not reticent about telling Board members who are venturing into staff turf when they are “out of line.” When there is a major need to clarify relative responsibilities the Board and staff leadership convene and work through relative responsibilities in all key areas.
Head of School and Board Chair communication.
Level I – Scheduled meetings between the Board Chair and Head of School are often postponed resulting in ad hoc get togethers generally focused on the crisis of the moment.
- Level II – The Head of School and Board Chair meet every other week to review hot issues and to prepare for the monthly Board meetings; additionally, the Head of School and Board Chair communicate relatively frequently via email.
- Level III – The Board Chair and Head of School conduct a sacred weekly meeting where all issues and problems are shared; additionally both communicate between frequently via phone call and email to alert each other in a timely fashion about potential problems and ensure alignment of perspectives and actions; in public forums the two are seen as aligned. The Board President goes out of his way to compliment the Head of School when he/she sees something going right and looks for ways to make him/her successful.
The Board President and Head of School collaborate to craft value added Board meeting agendas and to orchestrate how they will conduct themselves before during and after the meetings to ensure desired outcomes.
- Level I – Board agendas are developed in advance but typically ad hoc concerns are raised by Board members that overtake the planned agendas. The Board President and Head of School are frequently on the defensive during these meetings and often appear not to be aligned. This causes significant interpersonal tension.
- Level II – The Board President and Head of School consult relative to Board agenda topics prior to Board meetings but the specifics of the meeting agendas and content are largely up to only one of the President or the Head, but not both. On occasion, one or the other is taken by surprise when new information is shared with the Board that he/she has not had a chance to review and discuss with his/her counterpart beforehand; this causes tension in their relationship.
- Level III – The Board President and Head of School jointly develop Board meeting key agendas, work together to ensure Board committee chairs are effectively prepared, define value added Board development activities, and actively strategize on their respective roles in ensuring that desired outcomes are achieved.