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Diversity on Charter School Boards

Discussions about diversity are tough, and this is particularly true in public schools. After all, much of our nation’s public policy about race has been played out in our public schools.

Nonetheless, you will be doing your school a disservice if your board doesn’t routinely discuss issues of diversity. Discussing diversity is an important part of the process through which a board develops its values and vision.

Discussing diversity with your board

It’s important for your board to have an authentic conversation about diversity on your board. Discuss the meaning of diversity in the context of the organization you’re governing, why it’s important, and what will be done to ensure that diversity on the board is maintained.

Ask yourselves: How do you define diversity?  Why is it important? How does it relate to your mission and vision?

When boards think about diversity, they quickly jump to race and ethnicity. And yes, this kind of diversity is vital. But, a robust conversation about diversity should include gender, age, socio-economics, sexual orientation, and even geography.

Ideally, the board’s composition should reflect the broader community it represents. So the discussion should include articulation of whom the school is serving, and how closely the board should reflect the school’s constituency and why.

Think about and discuss diversity in the broadest sense of the word. Race and ethnicity are important, but include gender, geography, sexual orientation, religion, etc., as well.

Diversity is important to decision-making

Does your board always reach a unanimous decision? This might feel good, but it’s actually likely to be detrimental to your organization.

Often, boards who state with pride that they’ve always had unanimous decisions lack the diversity of opinions and perspectives required to solve the challenges facing most charter schools.

You’re trying to build a strategically assembled team with the skills, temperament, and life experience to govern a multimillion-dollar public enterprise. The more diverse your board is, the less groupthink you will have and the better your creative problem-solving will be.

To understand diversity, think through real-life scenarios

When thinking about achieving diversity on the board, it may be helpful to think through a relevant scenario.

Imagine you’re a parent coming to a board meeting for an expulsion hearing. Who would you need sitting in front of you to make you feel that a just decision will be reached? What should their backgrounds be?

Be conscious about diversity when planning your board recruiting strategy

Board membership should reflect the broadest level of ethnic, racial, gender, and geographical diversity. The diversity of board members heightens the credibility of the board in the broader community’s eyes.

BoardOnTrack is built to help boards be conscious about their trustees’ diversity. The Members Report highlights age, ethnicity, and gender.

Having data to help guide your conversation about diversity can make the conversation easier and much more productive. Instead of just focusing on opinions or assumptions, you can ask yourselves and each other the following questions. And answer them with data:

  • What does the report tell us about the current levels of diversity on our board?
  • How does our current board makeup align with our organization’s mission and vision?
  • How does our current board composition align with our student population, service area, and broader community?

With this information in hand, you can set inclusive recruiting goals, like this one:
By {month and year}, we will have a sustainable governing board of 11-15 diverse trustees who bring the needed skills to the board to ensure effective governance.

Difficult topic or not, your board needs to have discussions about and recruit to ensure your board brings a level of diversity that is going to help you achieve your goals. Download this e-book now to ensure you are recruiting the right people at the right time for your organization.

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