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Top 10 To Dos for Board Chair & Head Relationship

  1. Do recognize that it is one of the Board Chair’s primary responsibilities to make the Head of School successful. Doing so will take coaching, patience, empathy, and informed listening. But the price is well worth the effort when one considers the incredible turmoil, financial cost and reputational damage a school sustains when it involuntarily changes a Head of School or when a Head of School decides to leave.
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  3. Do establish annual and multi-year written goals for the school, Head of School and Board. The goals should be mutually agreed upon and consistent with the school’s strategic plan. These published goals should be reviewed frequently and will be invaluable in getting everyone on the “same page” relative to priorities and expectations.
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  5. Do have an explicit written contract for the Head of School that details the scope of responsibility and accountability for meeting the strategic goals of the school. Specify how performance will be evaluated. It is critical to distinguish the areas of accountability and responsibility of the Board and Head of School.
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  7. Do formally review the Board’s and Head of School’s performance once a year. The process, goals and objective criteria for review should be agreed to in advance.
    • The Head review process should include a self-assessment by the Head and, ideally, balanced input from the entire Board and other key school and community constituencies. The review should be done in a highly sensitive and constructive manner so that the Head of School emerges feeling supported and valued and that he/she has learned something useful from the process.
    • The Board’s own review process should be defined and directed by the Committee on Trustees and should include a self-assessment survey and follow up discussion that examines the Board’s productivity and effectiveness in meeting its goals.
  8. Do ensure frequent communication between the Head of School and the Board Chair. Schedule in-person meetings at least once per week and supplement these formal meetings with email and phone conversations about intervening issues of importance, including any issues with the potential to embarrass or damage the school or either individual. One Head of School termed this, “We watch each other’s back.”
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  10. Do ensure that Board agendas are co-developed by the Head of School and Board Chair and that differences in their positions on important issues get aligned before going into the meeting. The Board as a whole should see the Board Chair and Head of School acting in alignment at all times.
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  12. Do ensure that in all public forums the Head of School and Board Chair are positive in their comments about each other and that the external world, including, in particular, parents, sees them as a highly aligned team. This will help prevent individuals complaining to the Head about the Board and vice versa.
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  14. Do have an orientation session for new Board members to ensure they understand the scope of their roles. Be sure to clarify the scope of the school staff’s responsibility relative to that of the Board. When necessary and appropriate, the Board Chair should take the lead in reminding Trustees who stray from the appropriate scope that they must allow the Head of School and his/her staff to run the school operations in a manner that makes them accountable and responsible.
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  16. Do ensure that any “gray” areas where the extent of staff or Board accountability is unclear are clarified and resolved rapidly. Uncertainty can breed discord between the Head of School, his/her staff and the Board.
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  18. Do ensure that the Committee on Trustees is working closely with the Head of School formally or informally to be certain that potential new Board members are ones with whom he/she can work effectively.