A key to governing effectively is to maintain objectivity. A board that is comprised of too many current parents is by its nature lacking in objectivity.
In our experience, boards govern most effectively when 25% or less of the board members are parents of students currently enrolled in the school. The majority of board members should be from the community at large, and are selected because they bring specific skills to the board.
Here are some tips to make the role of parent trustees work most effectively:
- While having an active parent voice at a school is essential, this is a management function, not a governance function. A key responsibility of your CEO is to make sure there are proper channels to hear from key stakeholders.
- Do not reserve “parent representative” slots on the board. One or even three parents cannot speak for all the parents in the school. “Parent representatives” give the board a false sense of security that they are “hearing” from parents, when in fact they are only hearing from a small number of highly motivated parents who have the time to serve on the board.
- If you want to have some “parent voice” on the board, consider having the elected chair of the school’s parent council have a seat on the board.
- Put measures in place to ensure that if you do have parents on the board, they do not become official or unofficial “grievance officers.” Your school should have a clear grievance policy, and it should be followed.
- If you do nominate parents to the board, ensure that they are selected because they bring necessary skills needed to run a multimillion dollar public enterprise, rather than being nominated simply because they are well-meaning parents.
The board should have a detailed discussion with the CEO about the role of parents in their school. This should be a broad conversation that covers, “What is the role of parents in the school?”, “How do we ensure that their concerns are heard?” and other questions.
“Seats on the board” should be one part of a much broader strategy of parent involvement. And remember, soliciting input from parents is an important management function, not a governance function.