What Makes a School Board Ef fective?
By Catherine Langsdale | Principal—West Coast Christian Academy
School boards make or break a school. After forty years in education, both private and public, experience has taught me that the school's administrative branch, i.e., the principal and the school board, set the tone for the community attitude about a school's value to that community. As Adventist Christian schools, the development of a sense of vision and mission are key to the success and growth of the local church school. This development requires an understanding of who owns the school, who runs the school, and who attends the school. Only when the governing body is in agreement that a school runs smoothly and the witness of Jesus is present.
The question that breaks down the success of more boards than anything else is:
It is necessary to establish from the beginning that the school belongs to the Lord and not to any church or conference. Those in school leadership need to spend time in concentrated prayer before each board meeting and during each board meeting, seeking God's directions for the school. He is faithful and never fails to guide when asked.
Power struggles lead to hurt feelings and, at times, feuds between individuals, board members, and sadly churches. For an operating body to succeed, they must first determine who runs the school. Ultimately, if the school is the Lord's, then He runs the school. However, to do that, He has placed gifted individuals in positions of leadership who know how to address specific situations. Qualified educators know best the policies and procedures required by the conferences and educational practices'—trust their judgments. Board members can have experience in business and of fer excellent knowledge in the business end of the school—listen to their input. Senior board members know the school's history and can give insight into what brought the school to this point—listen to their wisdom. A growing school should be operated by a group of individuals who respect each other's opinions and trust each other only to want God's best for the school.
Finally, a school board needs to agree on who attends the school. It stands to reason that if it is God's school, run according to His purposes, God's children should attend. But who makes up God's children in a given church community? Gone are the days when it was automatically assumed every Adventist child would attend an Adventist school. Many churches have dwindling children's departments. The board should evaluate the school's reason for existing. If it is to minister to Adventist families, then plan accordingly. If it is to make the school a mission field to minister outside the church community, watch the blessings multiply.
An ef fective school board gives control of the school to God and trusts Him to provide the staf f, the funds, and the children to represent Jesus in the community you serve. The possibilities are limitless with a shared vision and mission.
“Who owns the school?”
The relationship between the board chair and myself blossomed from day one as she met me at the school with a lovely bouquet and welcome balloons. Her kindness and respect have continued throughout my four years at Osceola Adventist Christian School. The kindness and respect we have for each other, even when we have different opinions, have been key elements in the prosperity of our relationship and, in turn, the success of the school we both love.
We are not always fortunate to work with personalities that match our preferences, viewpoints, or problem-solving techniques. Therefore, my recommendations for developing and maintaining a productive, profitable, and even enjoyable professional relationship with the school board chair can be summarized in the following four suggestions:
The principal and chair need to reach a level of unity when it comes to the Vision and Mission of the school. In turn, that will form a firm foundation. To accomplish this endeavor, they may need to compromise—the type of compromise that commits fully without regrates for the institution's growth.
A relationship of honesty and respect is essential between the chair and principal. I look forward to calling the chair and saying, "I want to run this by you…" or "This happened today...". In return, the board chair does the same with me. We value each other's opinions and keep each other informed. Many of our conversations are preventive or informative in nature.
I am proud to say that we value each other as reasonable and productive thinkers: never belittling, back-biting, or not trusting each other's motives. The board chair has my back, and I have hers 100% because we are one in faith, vision for the school, and work ethics.
Work ethics brings me to my fourth and final recommendation. I believe that all administrators, board chairs, and principals should lead by example. The board chair and I work side-by-side with our volunteers, parents, and hired contractors. It is not uncommon to see us painting, spraying, or pulling weeds, hauling books and furniture from building to building, or preparing food for the board members and staff.
Yes, we plan, pray, and work together; but most of all, we enjoy what we are doing, we love the school we work for, and we praise the God that gave us the privilege to serve.
Developing and Maintaining the Board Chair and Principal Relationship
Nieves Jenkins | Principal and 5th/6th Grade Teacher—Osceola Adventist Christian School
Healthy and Vibrant School Board Relationships
By Murray Cooper | Associate Superintendent for Administration—Florida Conference
The focus of Leading the Journey this month is school board relations, which is a timely topic as we are launching into the new school year. Please take some time to read about this topic in the NAD Principals' Handbook in chapter two on Leadership. There is valuable information for both the experienced principal to help elevate school board productivity and the new principal looking for any supporting document to help them get started in their new role and relationship with the school board.
After 37 years of working in Adventist Education, I have had the opportunity to observe numerous board meetings. Based on that experience, I would like to offer personal perspectives on how to have healthy and vibrant board relationships to grow and prosper your school program.
Communication is vital for success at the school board level and thus for the operation of the school. Talking with your school board chair and developing a positive relationship is imperative during good times. Then, when you reach a rough patch in the road, you already have a working relationship with that person. If necessary, communicate through text and email, but nothing surpasses a phone call or face-to-face meeting.
I once worked with a school board chair who was a friend. Upon moving into that role, we had a conversation where we set the table for a successful partnership by agreeing that if either of us became aware of a situation or "the word on the street," we would communicate immediately to avoid any surprises. So, for example, when something happened at the school that could become problematic, I'd call to explain. In a similar fashion, when the chair would have someone share a concern about the school with them, the chair would share that with me. The "no surprises" approach was beneficial.
To make the best impression possible with your school board, be ready for your board meetings. Being prepared for your principal's report with notes, handouts, or PowerPoint can help keep your report focused and on track; this speaks to your preparedness and organization, which your board will appreciate. It also reduces the chance of "speaking off the cuff" and wandering into topics you might not have been as prepared to speak about, thus opening the door for you to make a statement that you might regret later.
A pivotal relationship to be built is a partnership between the school board members and the faculty and staff of the school. You may be thinking—but of course, the school board and teachers work together—not so fast. In my experience, both as a principal and as a superintendent, it is more the exception than the rule that school boards and educators know each other and trust that the other has only the best interests at heart. Too often, the school board and educator operate in separate silos, and thus, teachers don't know and trust the board while board members question things they hear about the school. The principal, teachers, and school board must be aligned to achieve the greatest success and influence for the school. Consider having a board meeting or two per year where you bring the board and teachers together to talk about the school and, as importantly, fellowship together over a meal. Time together focusing on getting to know one another can be a great unifier and help propel your school forward.
One impediment to productive board meetings and school operation is when, by position, people get out of their lane of responsibility. A review of roles and responsibilities for board members at the start of school is a great way to start the year right. One good example is telling board members that representing the school in the church and community does not include speaking on behalf of the school, principal, or teachers to a parent or member in the church. Instead, when hearing something negative or positive, board members should talk with the principal or board chair and let those people respond.
May there be something in this article or the ones my colleagues have provided that will benefit you as you start the 2021-2022 school year.