School Committees NAD Principals’ Handbook Excerpt
Each school functions more effectively with standing administrative committees. In small school settings, board and community members may be valuable in assisting with some committees, e.g. Marketing, Technology, Safety, etc. Some general guidelines for working with committees are:
Examples of school committees and their functions are provided in the Principals Handbook.
Minutes preserve a permanent, official record of the actions taken at meetings. Accurate minutes guide implementation of the decisions made, help avoid future misunderstandings, and share the proceedings for those unable to participate.
Minutes are considered legal documents, and it can be presumed that if it isn’t in the minutes, it didn’t happen. It is essential that the principal ensure accurate and concise minutes be published and distributed of all official meetings in a timely manner. While there may be variation in format, official minutes should include the name of the school, the board/committee, date/time of the meeting, who attended and if there was a quorum, all motions made and voted, any declared conflicts of interest or abstentions from voting, and reports from various sub-committees.
Tips on what not to include in minutes are provided in the Principals‘ Handbook along with details for Executive Board Session minutes.
Proper Preparation of School Board Meeting Minutes
The purpose of school board minutes is to preserve a permanent, official record of the actions taken at meetings of the school board. The school board speaks through its records and the minutes are part of such records. Accurate minutes avoid future misunderstandings, are useful in litigation, and serve as a guide to the school board in carrying out their decisions.
The minutes of meetings are presumed to be correct. They are prima facia evidence of the facts they recite. Together with the by-laws, minutes are the highest proof of the school board's powers, and the minutes are the best evidence of the events or decisions they record.
Minutes are considered legal documents by auditors, the Internal Revenue Service, and courts, and they represent the actions of the board. It is not uncommon to hear it said: "If it isn't in the minutes, it didn't happen!"
There is no standardized level of content or format for board minutes. Whether a meeting occurs in person or by remote technology, the same standards and procedures for maintaining minutes apply. Board minutes should include sufficient information to describe how board members reasonably came to reasonable decisions. These details are crucial in the event of litigation because evidence of reasonable, carefully considered good-faith decision-making will go a long way toward protecting a school from liability.
Apart from the legal obligation to take minutes, accurate and concise minutes serve other functions. For example, they:
Usually included in the minutes is the name of the organization, the date and time of the meeting, who called the meeting to order, who attended and if there was a quorum, all motions made, any conflicts of interest or abstainments from voting, reports from various committees, and when the meeting ended.
The minutes are a factual record of business and should not include the following:
The person taking the minutes will find him or herself better able to perform his or her duties in connection with meetings if they will make the following preparations before attending the meeting:
There is little established law concerning executive sessions. They are not mandated by state law, but there are sound reasons that exist for a school board to hold closed executive sessions from time to time as appropriate. Appropriate circumstances include: contract negotiations, the examination (with board legal counsel) of legal problems, a discussion about the qualifications, competence or fitness of an employee or prospective employees, deliberations about student expulsion, conflicts between two board members, or serious criticism of a board member by another, review of the salary schedule, compensation schedule, and marketing/pricing strategy that would place the board in a tenuous position if known to the general public.
Scheduling an executive session should be a rarity, not something that happens at numerous board meetings. Executive sessions should not take up more time than the actual agenda of the board.
It is important that the chairperson remind the board at the beginning of every executive session that the executive session is confidential and the discussions should not be disclosed to anyone else. Such disclosure is not only a breach of the board member's fiduciary duty but could also potentially expose that board member to personal liability. Confidentiality is essential if legal counsel is present to discuss legal matters. The attorney-client privilege protecting the disclosure of sensitive information can be lost if the board members discuss the information outside the executive session and the presence of legal counsel.
Although executive sessions may be more informal and do not have the same standing as board committee meetings, they benefit from observing many of the same procedural formalities. The preparation of minutes of the executive sessions is recommended. The goal of the executive session minutes is to reflect the meeting accurately. Minutes should address the principal items discussed and the tenor of the discussion. The minutes should not be a transcript of what was said by each meeting participant. Board members are less likely to engage in a frank and free-flowing discussion if they know every word is being memorialized. Minutes of the executive session must be approved in another executive session of the board. If executive sessions do not happen often, it is acceptable to approve the minutes from several executive sessions at one time. Minutes of executive sessions should be stored separately from regular board minutes and should generally be kept in a locked cabinet.
Minutes should also reflect the sessions' procedural details, such as the meeting's date and time and who attended. The suggested format for board meeting minutes can be used as a format for executive session minutes. The length and content depend on what is being discussed. No matter who takes the minutes, the minute taker should be sensitive to striking the right disclosure balance. Well-prepared executive session minutes can afford board members additional protection.
Poorly prepared minutes or no minutes at all are problematic. The minutes should be memorialized as soon as possible after the executive session. The likelihood of leaving out important details or inaccurately capturing nuances increases with the passage of time.
From time to time, if there is a particularly important or sensitive issue, it may be prudent to reflect in the regular board minutes that this topic was discussed at the executive session. When to do this and how to characterize the topic must be a matter of judgment, but as a general rule, the executive session should be candid, constructive, and private.
In summary, the majority of board business belongs in the standard board meeting, regardless of the difficulty reaching the ultimate decision. Use executive sessions for frank, open conversations but, when possible, return officially to the board meeting to take formal votes. A savvy school board manages itself and relationships thoughtfully. It distinguishes between inappropriate secrecy and legitimate privacy. Relying on good judgment, the school board can take advantage of the seclusion an executive session provides when private communication is necessary. At the same time, knowing how not to abuse executive sessions, a savvy board manages to maintain trust and confidence in the organization's integrity and processes.
Minutes should be kept of each board subcommittee and made available to the board for review.
Sample Board Minutes
Sample Board Minutes Language
How to Run a Meeting
The agenda is prepared. You have sent the invitations for tomorrow’s meeting to all the committee members. As the chair, you are responsible to see that everyone’s time is well spent and the meeting is profitable. But you are not happy about how the past few meetings have gone. So, how do you run a good meeting? In this classic article from Harvard Business Review, Antony Jay addresses “How to Run a Meeting.” We encourage you to spend some time reviewing these timeless ideas.
Harvard Business Review
Strategic Planning and Committees that Work
By Chris Juhl | Principal—Forest Lake Education Center
Iwon’t be home in time for supper. I have a committee meeting.” This oft-quoted phrase from school administrators generally comes with sadness in the voice or a texted frowning emoji. For many years, committees were just an added responsibility placed on my shoulders to resolve school issues. That was before I understood the work of Strategic Planning.
Strategic Planning is similar to multiple other academic initiatives. If you had a roomful of 10 administrators, each one would have a different perspective of what a Strategic Plan entails. For many schools, a Strategic Plan is getting together once every five years. The group goes to the church camp or does a brunch on a Sunday. Subgroups break out; each takes a specific area and begins to think of a direction the school should go. More times than not, the Strategic Plan uses overarching language devoid of practical application to the school leader. It presents no timeframe parameters and does not create any indicators for success. How could you know when you have achieved the goal you have set for your school?
My change of view on committees began while I was Superintendent of Schools in the Kentucky-Tennessee Conference. I had been in education for over 25 years when I accepted the role, but I had never fully embraced committee work. Sure, committees had their place, but I would rather be doing than discussing what I wanted to do. I began the work of Strategic Planning with the leadership at Madison Academy. The productivity of the committees was invigorating. The purpose and clarity of tasks made committees less plodding and more productive. An idea began to formulate in my mind, and I wanted to see it through. To do this, I felt I needed to be back “on campus” on a daily basis.
In the Spring of 2015, I accepted the position as Principal of Forest Lake Education Center (FLEC), located just north of Orlando, Florida. FLEC was a thriving school with about 600 students. While on campus for the interview, I was handed the most recent Strategic Plan. It had six headings and was nicely printed in a binder. It was also collecting dust on the bottom shelf of a bookcase. Historically, this is what I have found a “Strategic Plan” looks like. I determined that FLEC, a school I had attended, had to do better.
FLEC has committees like every other school. Personnel Committee addresses hiring and teacher audits. The Constitution Committee meets every other year to evaluate and update the constitution. The Executive Committee meets as needed for extreme situations. The rest of the committees for FLEC is where the real work takes place.
The school operates under a dynamic and vibrant Strategic Plan. The school has eight core Strategic Plans. These cover Spiritual Enrichment, Educational Excellence, Technology, Financial Stability, Facilities, Safety & Health Advancement & Engagement (formerly called Development), and Co-Curricular (which includes music, athletics, and innovation). The Strategic Plan guides the direction, plans, and vision of the school. The committees are established at the beginning of the school year and consist of school leadership, board leadership, board members, staff members, and valued community members (e.g., a non-board member who is a nurse or police officer may sit on the Safety & Health Committee).
Each Strategic Plan works with a foundational goal, rationale, and overarching objective. The chair of each committee, working with the group, sets the specific tasks to achieve that overarching objective for the upcoming school year. The committee generally meets at the beginning of each year to review the previous year and to set the upcoming tasks. For example, the first objective of the Spiritual Enrichment Strategic plan states: Provide opportunities for students and staff to nurture a love of God. One way the school has planned to achieve this is by: Facilitating parents having prayer/worship in the classrooms (parent/grandparent who acts as a class or whole grade chaplain). The Spiritual Enrichment Committee sets between 4-8 tasks for the upcoming school year. The committee chair meets regularly with me to review how to meet the objectives. Here is the practicality of how it works. The invested stakeholders of each committee are passionate about that aspect of the school. The committee begins working in the Spring, discussing tasks for the upcoming school year. Depending on the committee, these groups meet 4-10 times a year (e.g., Safety & Health 4 times; Finance 10 times) to review the tasks and evaluate how that Strategic Plan is meeting its stated goals. It works!
How does it work? FLEC’s school board meetings rarely last more than 70-80 minutes. Why? The heavy lifting is accomplished outside of board meetings by the sub-committees and the staff member who leads that committee (either as the committee chair or the school’s “boots on the ground” person). Board meetings become a celebration of what the school has accomplished. Boards now run with worship, voted minutes, an administration report, and four Strategic Plan reports. Finance, Advancement & Engagement, and Facilities report every month while the other five committee chairs rotate and report once a semester. Now, when a board member asks, “Why don’t we do this?” or “Why haven’t you painted this?” we can respond, “That’s a great question. Please refer that to the chair of the committee.” The reality is that the board is not going to “fix this” that evening. The heavy lifting is done by the sub-committees outside of the board and celebrated at the board meeting.
In applying this method of committees and board meetings to a smaller school, I would suggest the same model but with fewer committees. Combine Advancement & Engagement/Development with Finances, Educational Excellence with Co-Curricular and Technology, Facilities with Safety & Health, and leave Spiritual Enrichment as a stand-alone committee because of its importance. The same model works.
Are there pitfalls? Of course, there are. It is still easy not to look at the plan or not follow it. It is easy to bite off more than you can chew in a year and feel defeated when you do not reach your goals. It is easy to be too vague on your tasks and not be sure if you have accomplished them. However, when the plan is carried out, committees become dynamic, and the school is focused. It lets me text home and say, “I’m going to be a little late. I get to help facilitate GREAT things tonight! ”
*If you would like more information or to see a Strategic Plan, email:
For many years, committees were just an added responsibility placed on my shoulders to resolve school issues. That was before I understood the work of Strategic Planning.
Now, when a board member asks, “Why don’t we do this?” or “Why haven’t you painted this?” we can respond, ...