On Board: Developing Effective Board Advocates
Question: How do you prepare your board members to serve as effective advocates of your school?
Terri Rosen, President, Board of Directors
Ohr Chadash Academy,Baltimore
At Ohr Chadash, we value the contributions of our school ambassadors. We recognize the importance of keeping our board members informed about what is happening in the school. We want our board members to feel confident when they speak to other members of the community and promote the school.
At the beginning of each year, the governance committee plans an orientation for all new board members, where a few veteran members provide an overview of the organization. New members learn of our vision and brand and discuss the process of how we chose our vision, the role of board members and our expectations, the committees, the budget, as well as the educational program and administrative staff overview. We also update them on any current or recent discussions that the board is having, so they are up to date for the first meeting. Additionally, they receive a printed packet or email containing a list of board member contact information, committees, by-laws and meeting schedule.
Last summer, I also took the initiative to meet one-on-one with each board member so I could learn more about what they want out of this experience and what they can contribute to the school board. While this process helped me learn how best to engage the board members, it also gave them a sense of empowerment to serve as ambassadors, knowing that their thoughts and contributions are taken seriously.
Our board meets about five times from September to June, and each meeting has time devoted to a school report from the principal and pertinent discussions from the committee chairs. This allows the board members to have the information they need if anyone asks them questions about the school and gives them confidence to initiate a conversation about the school. At one board meeting, we took the board on a “field trip” to the art room, and the art teacher gave a passionate presentation about the art curriculum. Board members were so impressed and left feeling proud to serve on the board of Ohr Chadash.
Bruce Gersh, President, Board of Directors
de Toledo High School, West Hills, California
Our board members are on campus almost every day collaborating with the staff and students. Since opening our doors in 2002, our board has been invested in the mission and culture of our school. We are involved and love to participate. From Open House to Homecoming and the all-school Shabbaton, we are engaged and inspired.
Our board is consistently partnering with teachers, professionals, parents and the community. This partnership was front and center as we searched and selected our new head of school. The process required our board to articulate our school’s mission, values and culture.
Also, our board connects with students to learn about the impact our school has on their high school experience. Every board meeting starts with a dvar Torah. Last year, I proposed that a student deliver this dvar Torah, and the response has been remarkable. This kodesh moment allows the board an opportunity to witness the powerful ways that the school shapes the life of a student. I cannot think of a more effective way to inspire our board.
Abby Scheer, Board President
Syracuse Hebrew Day School, Syracuse, New York
(with input from Melissa Fellman, Past President, and Lori Tenenbaum, Head of School)
I think providing board members with plenty of opportunities to learn about the school—its activities and successes as well as areas for further development—enables them to speak positively and confidently about the school within the community. Our head of school shares highlights about the school in her reports at each board meeting, and, in past years, individual staff members were invited to meetings to present on curricular areas and activities. The school’s weekly newsletter is emailed to all board members; this publication is packed with information, photos and videos showcasing student activities and accomplishments both in and out of the classroom, as well as special initiatives and events. In addition, board members are invited to programs such as weekly assemblies, schoolwide Shabbat and the school play.
This year, our board embarked on a “listening tour” with current families and other stakeholders. This allowed several of our board members to hear firsthand what our constituents think is working well and what areas can be improved. The results of these conversations provided valuable information, which was shared with the board at our retreat and in a larger meeting with parents, teachers and other community members. This information, as well as a set of talking points, was shared with board members to help them provide consistent messages and speak with one voice when communicating about the school within the community.