NAIS writes the book on how to be a “good” trustee. These independent school “norms" are often different from how most other Boards operate. The job of a trustee requires asking difficult questions, Particularly as relates to the school’s mission. For example, why is the school doubling down on woke ideology?
School bylaws are helpful to read. For example, how are trustees nominated, vetted, and selected each year? Are there term limits? What board committees exist? How is the board evaluated? What goals does it set for itself? Who assesses if board members are fulfilling their duties?
What They Say
Always support the Head of School
Be strategic, stay out of operations
Act in the best interests of the school
What It Means
Leaves little room for vigorous debate
The board essentially works for the Head
Don't question process or how programmatic decisions are made
The “lived” experience of your child should not affect your ability to be a good trustee
The 3 Jobs Of A Trustee
Why do people serve on boards? Loyalty to the school's mission, desire to ensure the institution's long-term success, status, and potential influence that it confers. Boards are populated with busy people, but schools need people who can “do the bulk of the work” and also those who can give/raise money. High-functioning boards are composed of people with diverse areas of expertise and skill sets, such as law, real estate, finance, etc., depending on the school's needs. Ideally, the nominating committee would prioritize viewpoint diversity.
Uphold The Mission Of The School
Has the mission of the school changed? Why? What is the process by which the school determines its priorities?
Oversee The Head Of School
Is there a formal review process? How are goals set and evaluated?
Act As A Fiduciary
How financially fit is the school? How much money is allocated to DEI, staff consultants, programming, professional development?