The Board’s most important duty

Most members of school boards are keenly aware that they are obliged to perform certain duties.

There are fiduciary duties – the duty of care, the duty of loyalty and the duty of obedience – which are expressed through compliance to legal and financial standards, risk management and program oversight.

There are also non-fiduciary duties which don’t have direct legal or financial requirements, but are nonetheless necessary for good governance.  These are matters such as development of and adherence to the board’s policies, overseeing strategic factors such as demographics and reputation, and so on.

When I work with principals and their boards, it often emerges (indeed, too often!) that one critically important duty is neglected by the board – its duty to care for its principal.

Let’s compare three comments I have heard recently from principals about their board’s care for them:

You can probably guess which of these principals reciprocated the loyalty and gratitude that were expressed to them by the board, and which principals decided to start searching for new schools where they might be treated in a more caring or professional manner.

In many ways, the board’s duty to care for its principal is arguably its single most important duty.  That may sound strange when there are huge legal and financial responsibilities resting upon board members’ shoulders.  However, it is important to appreciate that almost every facet of the school’s health depends to a greater or lesser extent upon the principal’s capacity to implement and maintain energetic leadership, and to guide the school along the pathway of the mission and vision set by the board.

It is no coincidence that successful schools are led by great principals (and boards!) 

Boards treat their principals poorly at their peril.  The costs of losing a principal and initiating a new search and recruitment process are not inconsiderable, especially when unquantifiable but real costs such as loss of institutional memory and interrupted momentum of initiatives and strategies are included.

In my experience working with many schools in various countries over several decades, the principle of reciprocity – “generosity begets generosity” – applies almost universally.  It is false economy, ethically as well as financially, for a board not to invest generously in treating its principal well.

-Dr Stephen Codrington

Tips on overseeing and supporting Heads of Schools are discussed in workshops such as OSG-S1 - Board Operations as well as in the book "Optimal School Governance", which can be ordered directly through Pronins.

We can also assist Boards with Head Searches and Recruitment.

You may also be interested in previous articles which are archived at