Members of school boards face a thankless task that is far more difficult than most observers imagine. Unlike the members of many corporate boards, members of school boards 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 members 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 member of 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 board members to slip into a ‘comfort zone’ over time and thus not recognise areas where mediocrity may have unwittingly crept into the board’s performance.  The main focus of a board performance review 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 either (or both) individual board members’ performances and the performance and effectiveness of the board as a whole.  Performance reviews are conducted on a strictly confidential and neutral basis, thus removing the delicate task of reviewing others’ performances from anyone within the school, making it clear to everyone that it has been conducted in a fair, professional, transparent, politically neutral manner.

Board performance reviews are 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 full board review fall into four main areas:

ETHOS:

  • the mission (enduring purpose) of the school
  • strategic vision
  • school policies
  • environmental sustainability

DUTIES:

  • legal compliance
  • finance and resources
  • risk management
  • reputation

SCHOOL OVERSIGHT:

  • oversight of the Head
  • engagement with others
  • program oversight
  • school demographics

PROCESSES:

  • composition and succession of the board
  • board meetings/dynamics (including committees)
  • board policies
  • change leadership and innovation

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

  • Communication – Does the board communicate well with its stakeholders? 
  • Outcomes – Does the board have a strong record of achieving positive outcomes? 
  • Initiatives – Does the board plan, implement and achieve its initiatives well? 
  • Networking – Does the board build and maintain good relationships within and outside the school? 
  • Standing – Does the board have a positive reputation and standing? 
Board performance review evaluation appraisal model
Board Performance Review grid sample

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 can be a complex and potentially time-consuming process if it is to capture the whole story.  Typically a full and complete board evaluation would require: 

  • an initial information-gathering and reconnaissance visit; 
  • some time with the full board (or a representative committee) to discuss the review process;
  • data gathering through a comprehensive survey (the extent of which varies school-by-school according to need), and subsequent analysis; 
  • small group interviews and one-on-one interviews with at least the Chair and the Head, and preferably other board members and key stakeholders; 
  • compiling and presenting the report to the Chair, typically about 40 pages in length; and 
  • presentation of a report to a board meeting (if desired) outlining recommendations and/or comments for future action and follow-up. 

Please contact us to discuss your board’s specific needs and to discuss the optimal approach to meet those needs.