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BoardStar: Frances Teso

Like so many leaders in the charter movement, when Frances sees something that needs to be done, she’ll stand up and do it.

“I started off as a classroom teacher in the neighborhood where I grew up. I saw how the disparities and the status quo affect kids like me, my friends, my neighbors.”

From childhood, Frances dreamed of making a difference as a teacher in her East San Jose neighborhood. That dream propelled her to be the first in her family, and one of few in her neighborhood, to graduate college.

She launched her teaching career fully believing that she could — and would — make a difference for the kids of San Jose. But she quickly saw that bureaucracy stood in the way of real change.

Her search for a better way led Frances to New Leaders for New Schools, and eventually to launching the Voices school, Franklin McKinley, in 2007.

Frances Teso, founding CEO, Voices College-Bound Language Academies
Frances Teso, founding CEO, Voices College-Bound Language Academies

A National Board Certified Teacher, Frances set out to provide high-quality education to kids who were being underserved.

Frances was — and is — on a mission to provide historically underserved students with the school they deserve. A school that builds on students’ assets and home culture; that can change the trajectories of their lives.

Following a slow-growth model, Franklin McKinley added one grade each year, with Frances as its principal. After several years, they’d done more than reach full capacity. They’d reached proof points so compelling that the imperative to grow was undeniable.

Yet, Frances’ initial vision was one school, one community. What drove the network’s rapid scaling? It was the board.

“I’m proud of our board. I like our board. I feel supported by our board. Because commitment to the mission was number one, before anything else.”

Seeing the undeniable proof points of the flagship school, it was the board who sparked the conversation about replication.

While it’s most often the CEO figuring out how to work with the board on greenlighting growth, having a founding board built on the mission can flip the script. An unwavering commitment to the mission and to Frances, combined with the undeniable proof points, convinced these trustees that Voices needed to serve more kids, in more neighborhoods.

And as the organization has evolved, the board has evolved right alongside of it. The profile of the ideal trustee is now one who’s more influential, who can help the organization politically, can be a voice in the community, and can substantially contribute to development efforts.

Still, first and foremost, each board member is 100% committed to the Voices mission. So the board’s work isn’t sidetracked by egos or agenda. The focus is on the purpose, not the personalities.

That’s vital. Because the board’s work only gets more complex as the organization grows.

“As we started to think about replicating, we sensed it would be smart to do BoardOnTrack. To protect Voices, we needed to be more streamlined, more professional, and to instill trust from our authorizer.”

As just one school, Frances, her staff and trustees did their best to keep track of it all. They’d save files into folders; build meeting packets in physical binders; create the agenda from scratch for each meeting. But that was not sustainable.

And springboarding from teacher to principal to CEO, Frances has learned in real time how to lead and report to a board. Many CEOs learn quickly that the board could almost be a full-time job in itself.

The board’s operations must be streamlined enough to use each trustee’s time to the fullest, adhere to charter promises and requirements without fail, and, at the same time, preserve a CEO’s bandwidth for the million other things they must attend to.

With BoardOnTrack, complying with transparency regulations and authorizer expectations is simple. And systematized.  It’s been a big part of ensuring that their growth is stable and sustainable. Especially because, as they’ve grown, Voices has become more of a target for critics, and so more at risk.

With a link on the website, Voices ensures that the public easily sees upcoming meetings and past minutes. Responding to any inquiries is as simple as  pointing to site.

Operating multiple schools in multiple communities means Voices is managing multiple authorizers. Voices’ authorizers can see for themselves what’s coming up, and even pull up past meetings or minutes. It’s simple to show compliance with the law and with what each authorizers’ expectations.

Without BoardOnTrack’s help, Frances is certain that her job as a CEO would be different. A major chunk of time and mental bandwidth would be devoted to managing these details.

Having to share the right things with every authorizer, and multiple people within each, would be impossible. Let alone the peace of mind that, “You click save, you go back later, and what you need is always there. There’s no…’which folder is it?’ or oh, did I save that one in a file folder or on my desktop.’ You just know everything’s in one place.”

Managing transparency changes as you grow. And it’s vital to manage at every stage.

This simply can’t be left for the day when public scrutiny bears down on the organization, whether or not you’re in a community that might be particularly challenging to charters.

The only way to know that you’re in compliance with Brown Act and can easily demonstrate it when questioned is through a system like BoardOnTrack.

Don’t wait to be asked why the minutes aren’t posted, where the next agenda can be found, or whether you’re even holding local board meetings. With BoardOnTrack’s public portal tool, you’ve got the tools to be in compliance.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]