Other Services to Boards

OPTIMAL SCHOOL GOVERNANCE

Services offered to support school boards

 
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HEAD SEARCH AND RECRUITMENT

OPTIMAL SCHOOL GOVERNANCE supports school boards by conducting effective searches to recruit heads, interim heads and other senior positions.

We understand and appreciate the importance of professionalism, discretion, confidentiality and sensitivity in this process, which is one of the most important tasks that any school board ever undertakes.  Therefore, every search is individually crafted to meet the specific needs of the school.  We do not retain a bank of resumés and we are not a placement agency.  We use our extensive network to scour the world if necessary to find the optimal match of head with the school.

The search begins by developing an illustrated ‘Position Description’ (or ‘Opportunity Statement’) that articulates the school’s mission and vision, its characteristics, its attributes and its challenges.  This document is developed by OPTIMAL SCHOOL GOVERNANCE in close collaboration with the school board and, with the board’s permission, selected senior personnel.

OPTIMAL SCHOOL GOVERNANCE then publicises the position and undertakes its own search for potential applicants, maintaining close communication with the board at every stage of the process.  Following this process, we assist the search committee and the board while undertaking candidate screening and preliminary interviews, after which we support the board through the process of reference checking, final interviews, community surveys (if appropriate) and, ultimately, the details of drafting and offering a contract.

Our search processes include the following elements:

  1. We cast a wide net to find the optimal match between person and school, knowing that the appointee will work closely with the board as its key driver to implement the school’s distinctive mission;

  2. We can offer advice on the formation of a search committee, and provide ongoing support to that committee;

  3. We will develop an enticing, professional, position prospectus that reflects the character of the school, drawing upon input from trustees, senior staff and focus groups of key stakeholders;

  4. We will control and account for all aspects of the costs for the search, including advertising, to ensure top value for funds spent;

  5. We will support the board and the search committee in communicating the progress of the search to the wider community at predetermined stages of the process;

  6. We will support the board in understanding the importance of healthy, effective board governance processes throughout the search process;

  7. We will help to ensure that the new appointee (and family) makes a safe, comfortable and effective transition;

  8. We will help the board to understand the risks as well as the opportunities of including one or more internal applicants in the search process;

  9. We will ensure that the important due diligence of checking references is conducted professionally, while also respecting the confidentiality of applicants – especially that of current heads;

  10. We will provide advice, if requested, on appropriate remuneration packages to ensure fairness, competitiveness and fiscal responsibility;

  11. In consultation with the school’s legal advisors, we will assist with drafting the contract to ensure the protection of both the school and the appointee; and

  12. We offer transition planning and support, including a complimentary return visit to the school during the new Head’s first year if requested.

OPTIMAL SCHOOL GOVERNANCE understands that the final decision to appoint a new head always remains the board’s responsibility.  We see our task as being to provide whatever help and support the board requests in order to ensure an optimal decision is made that will enhance the school’s health and future.

If you are considering hiring a search firm, we would like to hear from you as we are specialists in services that support school boards – it is our sole focus.  A confidential, preliminary conversation might allow us to answer some of your questions and learn more about your school’s particular situation and needs.  Please initiate a conversation by sending us an e-mail using the link below.

 

OPTIMAL SCHOOL GOVERNANCE offers a range of services to enhance the effectiveness of school boards and their members, encouraging best practice in the domains of outcomes, processes, community engagement, ethos and strategic intent.

In addition to the workshops offered, we support boards in several important ways, including board and trustee evaluations, developing strategic plans and visions, and recruitment of the Head of School and other senior personnel.

STRATEGIC PLANNING

Developing and implementing an effective, robust strategic vision is one of the most powerful ways in which a board can guide the direction of the school.  Sadly, too many strategic visions are neither effective nor robust.

OPTIMAL SCHOOL GOVERNANCE supports boards in developing effective and robust strategic plans.  Recognising that every school has unique characteristics, objectives and mission, we tailor the strategic planning process according to the distinctive needs of each school.  We reject the ‘cookie-cutter’ approach that limits a school’s strategic potential by forcing its vision to conform to a predetermined framework.

We support boards by doing the difficult and time-consuming work of developing the strategic vision, such as engaging in consultations with key stakeholders, drafting interim statements, identifying key objectives, gathering background demographic and economic data, conducting surveys, and so on.  We support the board fully while allowing the board complete autonomy in making its strategic decisions.

For school boards that find it helpful, OPTIMAL SCHOOL GOVERNANCE offers a flexible conceptual framework for strategic plans as shown in the diagram at the top of this column.  For boards that prefer to take a totally different approach, we offer complete support.

Our support for boards in developing a strategic vision includes the following points:

  1. We take the time to ensure that all trustees as well as the wider school community understands the various purposes of the mission, the strategic vision, the strategic results, the strategic boundaries and the annual development plans;

  2. We emphasise the central importance of the school’s mission statement and foundational philosophy as the guiding frameworks for the strategic vision;

  3. We support the establishment of a steering group to liaise with us and work in partnership to develop the strategic vision;

  4. We emphasise the importance of ensuring effective ‘best practice’ board governance processes and structures during the time of change that a new strategic vision brings;

  5. We support the school’s finance officers as they develop a long-term financial plan that will provide a framework to plan the ways in which funds will be raised and spent in order to protect and enhance the mission;

  6. We seek to understand the school’s actual and potential challenges, such as political, financial, demographic, sustainability and legal factors that might inhibit the school’s viability and development, thus offering advice on contingency plans to address such challenges;

  7. We provide advice on engaging with and drawing insights from the full spectrum of the school community as they respond in various ways to change – from the innovators, through the change agents, the pragmatists and the skeptics, and at the other end of the spectrum, the traditionalists;

  8. We provide advice on all aspects of risk management, and especially the threats and opportunities that risk offers in planning the future;

  9. We guide boards towards implementing effective change management processes and principles of effective governance that will ensure the ongoing health of the school, with clear statements of roles and responsibilities, and the absence of financial and other conflicts of interest, thus ensuring stable and effective ongoing change; and

  10. We offer follow up support to the board and the senior staff as the strategic vision is implemented to ensure focus is maintained while adapting to the changes that will inevitably arise.

OPTIMAL SCHOOL GOVERNANCE understands that all final decisions relating to the strategic direction of the school remain the board’s responsibility.  We see our task as being to provide whatever help and support the board requests in order to ensure optimal decisions are made that will enhance the school’s health and future.

If you are considering obtaining professional support as you develop a new strategic plan, we would like to hear from you as we are specialists in services that support school boards – it is our sole focus.  A confidential, preliminary conversation might allow us to answer some of your questions and learn more about your school’s particular situation and needs.  Please initiate a conversation by sending us an e-mail using the link below.

BOARD AND TRUSTEE EVALUATION

Trustees on school boards face a thankless task that is far more difficult than most observers imagine. Unlike the members of many corporate boards, school trustees are generally unpaid volunteers. They are dealing with topics that are highly emotional (children’s education), sometimes in an atmosphere that is politically charged (especially if some or all trustees are elected) where a high degree of stakeholder (and sometimes public) transparency is expected.

Within this culture of high expectations, it is hard to imagine any trustee on a school board being comfortable if untrained or unqualified teachers were being employed in the school or if the performance of teachers was not regularly appraised. It is therefore surprising that so few school boards regularly evaluate their own performance in the role of governance, especially given the fundamental importance of the board’s role and the significant difficulties that can arise if governance is not performed to a high standard of excellence.

It is very easy for trustees to slip into a ‘comfort zone’ over time and thus not recognize areas where mediocrity may have crept into the board’s performance.  The main focus of a board evaluation should not be finding out what is right or wrong, or who might be to blame for something; the singularly important focus ought to be enhancing the effectiveness of the board’s operations.

OPTIMAL SCHOOL GOVERNANCE has developed a thorough, research-based framework that uses evidence to evaluate both individual trustee performance and the performance and effectiveness of the board as a whole.  Board evaluation is conducted on a 16x5 grid of factors that helps identify any broad patterns of areas where board performance can improve, together with an analysis of any likely causes of shortcomings.  The process involves input from all board members and, if appropriate, related stakeholders.

The broad areas included in a board review fall into four main areas:

ETHOS:

  1. the mission (enduring purpose) of the school

  2. strategic vision

  3. school policies

  4. environmental sustainability

DUTIES:

  1. legal compliance

  2. finance and resources

  3. risk management

  4. reputation

SCHOOL OVERSIGHT:

  1. oversight of the Head

  2. engagement with others

  3. program oversight

  4. school demographics

PROCESSES:

  1. composition and succession of the board

  2. board meetings/dynamics (including committees)

  3. board policies

  4. change leadership and innovation

These 16 factors are each considered with reference to 5 key areas:

  1. Communication – Does the board communicate well with its stakeholders?

  2. Outcomes – Does the board have a strong record of achieving positive outcomes?

  3. Initiatives – Does the board plan, implement and achieve its initiatives well?

  4. Networking – Does the board build and maintain good relationships within and outside the school?

  5. Standing – Does the board have a positive reputation and standing?

The evaluation instrument used by OPTIMAL SCHOOL GOVERNANCE provides a school board with a very comprehensive evaluation tool that provides both a quantifiable measure of performance (especially if used repeatedly over time) and a learning tool to obtain a comprehensive view of the extent to which the school Is achieving its mission and goals.

Undertaking a full board evaluation is a complex and potentially time- consuming process if it is to capture the whole story. Typically a full and complete board evaluation would require a non-consecutive five day on-site process by an external consultant comprising:

  1. an initial information-gathering and reconnaissance visit;

  2. data gathering through a comprehensive online survey, and subsequent analysis;

  3. small group interviews and one-on-one interviews with at least the Chair and the Head, and preferably other trustees and key stakeholders;

  4. compiling and presentation of the report to the Chair, followed by a less detailed report to the board; and

  5. presentation of a report outlining recommendations and/or comments for future action and follow-up.