The Relevancy of School Boards

I’ve experienced two distinctly different types of School Boards during my career overseas:

1) In-Name-Only Boards:  This species of School Board is common in schools owned by wealthy, host nationals who have the clout to destroy the reputation of Board members, all of whom are host nationals themselves. Powerless to do much beyond planning bake sales and the “International Fair,” this Board exists in name only. In parts of the world where prestige is more important than substance, adding a footnote to your business card that says “School Board Member” is what matters most.

2)  Rulers of the Galaxy:  At the other end of the School Board spectrum are Boards with real power. These Boards interview/hire/fire admin and teachers, make and enforce policy and may even determine curriculum. They are at the helm. They run the school. Teachers and admin follow their orders. There’s a certain amount of prestige associated with being on such a Board, usually composed of a representative from an embassy, a former graduate, and the wives of prominent expat business men with children attending the school.

Which Board is best?

Rulers of the Galaxy Boards can be efficient and exemplary, depending, of course, on Board members’ individual agendas and experience with education. If you get the right combination of people working together, an International School can become a model for International Education. It could be, however, quite the opposite. A Rulers Board may be nothing but meddlesome, misinformed, detrimental to progress and made up of one or more members with personal agendas to exercise. If you get one of these Board member’s kids in your class and the child does poorly…watch out!!

In-Name-Only Boards can mean less overall stress because no one is keeping close tabs on you, but they can also mean a less than stellar addition to your resume if everyone simply cruised through the year under an owner focused on profit at the expense of education. For a true patriot of world-class education, this dismissal of quality standards of education could provide its own type of stress.

ISR Asks:  What has been your experience with School Boards overseas? Are School Boards relevant in International Schools when Board members may have no background in the field of education? Are you more willing to deal with the stress of rules, regulations and potential dismissal and/or discipline by a School Board? Or would the stress of working for a school with all power at the top be more stress in the long run?

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4 Responses to The Relevancy of School Boards

  1. Anonymous says:

    School board culture is a vital aspect to find out about while recruiting. Ask around (at conferences, your teacher friends, the recruiters, former heads and teachers who have moved on) about the past and current board behavior at the school you are considering. If the board turns out to be a “rulers board” you will end up working for Administrators who are over stressed, internally focused, fighting to stay relevant while they grapple with the management of the meddling board. Their stress will dribble down to teachers resulting in constant 2 year turnover, breakdown of program continuity, zero psychological or emotional safety and low morale.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    In cultures and schools known to have a history of “Rulers Board” seldom will that Board appoint (or retain) a strong head of school – if and when they do – she or he will not last a full school year – may not even last a semester.

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  3. Chrismarz says:

    I have also worked with boards at both ends of the spectrum. One issue is often that board members themselves do not understand what their role is and this means that good board training is important. My last school had an excellent board made of up of educators, business people and of course the school director. They were supportive, asked intelligent questions and were rational. They deferred to the Director. It was a very rewarding experience. Having said that I also have worked with Boards that only convene when there is an issue- very hands off. They did as much damage as a Board that was ‘rulers of the galaxy’. Boards need training and understanding of what their role is. Schools need a strong director/ head who is knowledgeable on school management and leadership and who can present to the Board informative and well reasoned arguments. Making a profit for a school and continuing to develop the education offerings at the school are not mutually exclusive under good school leadership and management.

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  4. Who Me says:

    Excellent article. I think you’ve summed it all up. My experience has been one extreme to the other, as you site in your article. I don’t know what the answer is. I try to offer constructive comments to board members from time-to-time but always refrain from even insinuating I’m not happy with the way things are. Doing so could be career suicide with either an effective or ineffective board.

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