School Board Relations NAD Principals’ Handbook Excerpt
The school board is the governing organization for the school. The individuals serving on the board can be a great blessing to the school and principal in providing support, encouragement, and as a sounding board. Having a positive perspective of the board will help the principal to work more effectively with the school board.
It is imperative that the school board members, school board chair, and principal understand and respect the responsibility and authority assigned to each. If any exceed or relinquish their assigned responsibility, effective administration of the school will be compromised. The LCOE can be a valuable resource to the principal in board relations, particularly in providing regular board training sessions. The LCOE representative must be present when the board is addressing personnel issues.
The school’s constitution and bylaws, the Union Education Code, and LCOE policies define the roles and responsibilities of the school board and generally include the following:
The principal serves as the executive secretary of the school board and should communicate regularly with the chair in establishing the agenda. The principal is responsible for the development and distribution of board minutes. Additionally, ongoing communication between the chair and the principal will enhance the effectiveness of the governance process.
The principal is also the school leader and spokesperson on topics under consideration, Board meetings will be more productive if preparations include:
One School’s Journey
to Effective Board Meetings
An Interview with Brian Harris, Principal, Walla Walla Valley Academy
The road toward effective school governance is lined by two ditches. When the school board ends up in either one, the journey to excellence is disrupted. On one side is over-involvement of board members in school operations, usually referred to as board micromanagement. On the other side is a lack of board engagement. In this interview with Principal Brian Harris we learn how Walla Walla Valley Academy (WWVA) has stayed out of the ditch!
Early in your principalship at WWVA changes were made in how the school board did business. Why?
For us, micromanagement was not really a problem. Instead, we were fighting against a sense of complacency, even apathy. That said, I think the principles and process that we used to set up a healthy board environment avoids the pitfalls (ditches) that disrupt effective governance for a school. We were looking to build engagement—seeking more active contributions from board members, as well as accountability for our leadership team and our staff.
Describe how the school board format or process was changed.
The first change was in scheduling meetings. We moved from a monthly meeting to every other month (from 11 to 6 meetings a year). On the alternate months, we now have board committee meetings. Secondly, our format went from report-oriented meetings to more time spent on generative collaboration; on big ideas or concerns. We adopted a consent agenda model, which provides reports to the board in advance of the meeting. This ensures that we have board time to spend in collaboration. Finally, the whole agenda itself was redesigned to work through the lens of our mission/vision and overall goals for the academy.
So, how does the board agenda reflect the mission/core themes of WWVA?
A visioning process with our stakeholders was tackled first before any board changes were made. This provided the context for change. We wanted all school programs and processes, including how the board works, to help us achieve the goals we had developed. The lens of our mission and vision provided the frame for focusing our generative board collaboration.
The board agenda includes four consistent components: 1) Mission Moment, 2) Community Building, 3) Consent Agenda, and 4) Generative Collaboration. I think it’s easy to see how the devotional, stories of students impacted by WWVA, and featured teacher fit into the agenda. Including a board activity also helps create community. The consent agenda includes minutes, operational reports, etc. We allow for questions, but time consciousness keeps us moving. The generative collaboration gives dedicated time for focus on one to three important issues that will improve the school and drive it toward fulfilling its mission.
Have the changes in board practices achieved your goal/purpose?
I think we certainly have achieved the goal of a more engaged board. I also believe that the staff and my leadership team feel an increased level of focus and accountability. The board sees its purpose more clearly and is not just acting as a “rubber stamp.” The danger of slipping back into just going through the motions is always present, and we have sensed it happening a few times. We still have more we can do to build efficiencies into our processes.
What advice would you give to others desiring to improve their school board’s focus on governance?
The first step is making sure that you have a clear and compelling mission and vision. It is imperative that you have that strong foundation to build on. Your mission and vision must provide the focus for every board meeting. Also, commit to quality not quantity. The amount of time dedicated to preparing for board meetings has a direct relationship to positive outcomes. By decreasing the frequency of meeting, it allows time to making your board healthy and effective. Your meeting time will be more engaging and productive. Take the time, it is worth it!
Vote by Email: Expedited Governance
Andre Wang | Legal Counsel
Dennis Plubell | Vice President for Education, North
Pacific Union Conference
Recently, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of email votes I have been asked to cast as a member of various boards and committees.
It is nice to have a timely decision on matters that arise between regular meetings. And who can pass up the savings when compared to having members show up for a hastily called meeting of the board! But should the board vote by email? It depends!
From a legal perspective, there are very few laws across the U.S. states to guide email voting. In that absence, many have considered it permissible to make decisions by email ballots if they comply with the laws for unanimous written consent—when the vote is unanimous and in writing. Emails are certainly written, even if transmitted electronically. But, what if there is not unanimity?
Votes via email work well when they are on topics that require urgent board action and the issue would be included on a consent agenda. These votes work because the members are well-versed in the mission of the school, the role of the board in the regular activities of the school, and the policies of the Education Code. These votes do NOT work on major policy or personnel decisions! Email voting limits, even discourages, questions and rigorous discussion, both essential for effective governance of schools.
The lack of input on a major action hints of inadequate oversight and may even be regarded as a breach of a board member’s duty of care. Decisions made at a regular board meeting give opportunity for members to ask questions, raise issues, and consider alternatives. The point of meeting together and discussing something in a board room is that better ideas emerge and pitfalls are more likely to be identified.
So, should we cast email votes? There are several ways to safeguard the board. First, they could adopt guidelines for email voting. These would address the issues of a quorum, and whether a simple majority, overwhelming majority, or unanimity is necessary. Further, it would allow the board to identify the types of issues that it is comfortable deciding by email voting. An action to include email voting may require amending the school’s constitution and bylaws.
A second safeguard for email voting would be to delegate the responsibility of deciding appropriateness to the executive committee of the board. If the matter is routine or has already been discussed and widely agreed upon, an electronic ballot may be appropriate. If, however, the matter is important or sensitive and/or may have serious consequences for the school or conference, holding a face-to-face meeting seems imperative.
Finally, if a voted action is needed to meet a deadline, but the matter is of consequence then an online meeting using a digital platform should be scheduled to give opportunity for available members to raise essential questions, engage in a thorough discussion, and explore alternatives before making a final decision by an email vote.
In conducting email votes, it is important to have a deadline for casting ballots. The board secretary should log all the votes and report the results shortly after the voting deadline. It is vital that minutes of the board include the official action taken by email. These minutes must be reviewed and approved by the board at its next regular meeting.
Conducting votes by email is not as simple or as speedy as might be assumed at first glance. We suggest:
Vice President for Education, North Pacific
Berit von Pohle, Editor
Pacific Union Conference, Director of Education
Ed Boyatt, Editorial Advisor
MISSION: STRENGTHENING ADVENTIST EDUCATION ONE LEADER AT A TIME