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How To Strengthen Your Board-CEO Partnership

You might feel like your board-CEO partnership could be better, but hesitate to spark the conversation. Perhaps you’ve never even considered the idea that it is a partnership.

Whatever the reason, if you’re looking for action steps you can take today to work better with your CEO, or to learn to work better with your board, this is it.

The truth is, most charter school CEOs don’t have a ton of vast experience working with boards. And most founding charter boards don’t have experience with charter governance. Add to that, the fact that your CEO’s role will change year to year, as will what the expectations organization’s needs of each trustee…And you can see why this partnership requires constant care and attention.

But, you have very limited time to meet all of your expectations, let alone this one.

You have to limit your efforts to only the most impactful.

Start with these top seven prioroties. If you need, pick just one to work on today. Prioritize the rest to be addressed throughout the year. Or dig into them all at once.

1.Prioritize governance.

The board takes responsibility for governing and prioritizes their roles as trustees.

It takes a lot of time to serve up well on a charter school board. It might be different than other nonprofit boards you’ve served on. Perhaps you’re used to quarterly meetings that don’t require a lot of work in between.

But, to be successful at governing a charter school board, you’ve got to put in the time. And you’ve got to learn how to govern. That means reading extensively on the topic. And seeking out training and professional development.

And, as CEO, you must see developing and maintaining the board as a primary responsibility. You’ll devote significant time, year-round, to help it run effectively. And you’ll ensure that each committee has the appropriate staff support.

Maybe you have committees in name only. Maybe you’re really struggling to get your committees up and running. Or you have one good one, and you need more. But each committee is only going to be effective if they have staff support. So either the CEO needs to staff that committee or find the appropriate member of their staff to do that. So make governance a priority to begin with that will help you strengthen that partnership.

2. Develop governance expertise.

A lot of boards and CEOs lack experience with board governance. But governance is something you can learn over time and master.

We’re all super busy people. Even still, if you’re going to take on the role of trustee, you’ve got to put it high on your priority list. And for the CEO, the same is true — the board must be among your top priorities.

You should be developing and maintaining the board as an important thing to give it the time it needs.

Take a few minutes each week, or even every day., Read one of our articles — on the blog, or in the Resources section of the platform if you are a BoardOnTrack member. You’ll get better at your governance game. And the same for the CEO. You just have to understand there’s a body of knowledge and best practices available to you and slowly kind of chip away at that.

And, CEOs, consider going to serve on another organization’s board outside of your school. Yes, you’re really busy. But you’ll get a very different perspective by actually serving on a board and might. It’ll make your board members’ comments make a lot more sense. Plus, this can be an excellent way to network and improve your organization’s position in the community.

3. Develop your charter school knowledge.

This is the thing that we hear a lot from CEOs that’s frustrating about trying to establish build their board partnership up.

They feel like the board just doesn’t understand what it takes to close the achievement gap. Ort that the board doesn’t understand how their charter fits in to the broader education ecosystem. Or the board just doesn’t understand this organization’s unique mission.

As CEO, think about some of the key topics that you want your board to get a better handle on. Give them readings, give them some videos, or other resources. Find ways to educate them. I’ve heard from some BoardOnTrack members that it helped to watch one of our training videos before the end of every board meeting — or to ask people to watch in preparation of the board meeting, and then lead a 10-minute board education conversation focused on the assignment.

There are lots of great tools out there to streamline this, but you have to be proactive and intentional to get everybody up to speed.

It’s really hard to govern a business without a strong understanding of its key drivers. that you don’t really understand the key drivers of. So it’s on the CEO and the staff to build a bridge with the board and help them learn more about your particular charter school, and its place in the broader community.

4. Set clear, measurable goals. And hold one another accountable.

Oftentimes, the partnership falls down because each side thinks they’re not getting what they need from the other. Measurable goals solve this.

The board should develop annual board-level goals that define how the board is going to add value to the organization each year. And then you should track those goals, throughout the year, and hold individuals accountable to their parts in helping meet those goals.

People come to board meetings, they get really fired up, they’re motivated. And they agree to a lot of tasks. And then they walk out the door. And these well-meaning, busy people who have the skills to execute on their tasks, drop the ball. Nothing happens until they show up to the next meeting. This doesn’t really help the board. And it gets really frustrating for the CEO and the staff.

And that’s what the Goals Dashboard in BoardOnTrack helps you do –it is a project management for your board, built around your goals.

The same can go for the CEO. Your board is your champion. They’re supporting you. But it’s very hard for them to see what you’re really doing day-to-day.,; the big-picture things you’re focused on. And how that relates to your charter.

So you want to get a set of goals that are your overarching goals for the year, that the board approves, and then use a clear and consistent dashboard to track that.

So the board is really clear: these are our big initiatives; here’s the progress we’re making towards those.

Bottom line: the board should get clear about the key decisions that need to be made this year and what their role is in that versus the CEO. The board and the CEO should agree with the board at the beginning of the year about how they’re going to be helping make those decisions. Goals help you do that.

5. Recognize the line between governance and management.

The board is clear about the key organizational decisions that need to be made this year and the role of the board vs. role of the CEO in making these decisions.

Ensures that the board agrees at the beginning of the year about the key decisions that need to be made and seeks clarity about what decisions are within the CEO’s purview.

6. Make data-driven decisions.

Even if you get the goals and you’re clear about the decisions, the partnership can still break down because decisions are driven by people’s feelings rather than data.

You like this educational model or you don’t like that one. You think that the discipline policy is too strict, or not strict enough. You think you’re not teaching enough arts or you want more science. And on and on.

The feelings, opinions, and assumptions, can go on forever. The way out of that is to make data-driven decisions.

If you’re going to make a big decision like whether you’re ready to grow and replicate, ask yourself: what data does the board need to make an intelligent decision?

Or, if you’re going to change how you’re allocating things in your budget, what data are you using to show that spending the money in a different way is going to get you better outcomes for kids.

It’s the CEO that really needs to strive to provide the data.. And agree upfront about what data is important, relevant, and attainable. Sometimes, the board has asked for sort of dissertations on topics and the CEO just can’t provide that level of data.

But, more often than not, we’re seeing boards just make decisions based on personal whim or personal information and perspective. It’s on the CEO to really make these conversations more data driven.

7. Establish succession-planning for board and leadership positions.

It’s essential to have a succession plan for the CEO.

Most boards wonder what would happen if they lost their CEO. A lot of charter schools are launched with a sort of cult of personality of that lead founder and it’s hard to transition beyond that.

Consider this: Are you growing talent from within? And, if so, is it clear to the board exactly how you’re doing so? clear to the board?

What happens if the CEO hasd an emergency? What’s your short-term plan if the CEO suddenly vacates their role? How are you going to document that and have the board sign- off on that?

This is why the CEO should initiate the succession planning process. And the board should approve both short- and long-term staff leadership succession plans.

Similarly, your organization needs to have a succession plan for the board as well.

The CEO isn’t the only one who needs to build a deep bench. Your board needs succession planning in place as well. Your board chair can’t serve in that role forever. The same goes for each committee chair, and, frankly, each trustee.

Don’t leave any one trustee feeling like the fate of the board rests on their shoulders.

Consider this: Are you tracking how your board’s skill sets and demographics will change as people’s terms end? Do you have a clear succession plan in place for officers’ roles? Are you pulling in non-board members to serve on committees, to help fuel the trustee talent pipeline?

These seven steps will help strengthen your board-CEO partnership

No matter where your organization is in its lifecycle, from single-site start-up to large-scale CMO, the board-CEO partnership is central to your success today and into the future.

And it can always be strengthened.

Whether you tackle one of these itemstactics  at a time, or dig right in and do them all this year, these are the action steps that we’ve proven will help you build the partnership that ensures your CEO and your trustees truly deliver on the promises you’ve made to the kids and families in your community.


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