On Board: The Key Relationship

QUESTION: What are the conditions for a healthy and thriving head of school – board president partnership?

Lisa Jerles, Board Chair, Gordon School, Miami

A strong head of school–board chair partnership hinges on good communication. As a board chair, I appreciate that our day school principal does her best to avoid presenting me with surprises. We communicate regularly—generally weekly, unless there is a situation or special project that requires us to speak more often. We also communicate openly and honestly with an understanding that we are all working toward the school’s growth, enhancement and improvement. Because we know our words come from a place of good intentions, we are able to avoid hurt feelings or misunderstandings. Even when our day school principal and I disagree on a particular issue, I always support her publicly while we work on the topic behind closed doors.

Cheryl Miller, President, Board of Trustees, Denver Academy of Torah

Pirkei Avot 1:2 teaches that the worlds stands on three things: Torah, service of Hashem and acts of human kindness. To borrow that construct, the partnership between a head of school and the board president stands on three things: open communication, mutual respect and shared focus on positive outcomes for students.

Open communication: The head of school and board president need to be in regular communication, sharing successes and problem-solving challenges.

Mutual respect: Both the head of school and the board president bring numerous talents and immeasurable passion to the work. Yet they each play distinct roles in advancing the mission of the school. Recognize those roles, and provide the space for each party to thrive in those roles. Be sure that the head of school and board president are regularly communicating about those efforts.

Focus on positive outcomes for students: Student success should be at the center of the relationship between the head of school and board president (and the board). Both parties should work together to ensure that all aspects of the school’s operations are designed to promote academic, social and emotional success for students. Putting students at the center provides a focus that is bigger than either of the two individuals.

David Sloan, Board President, Berman Hebrew Academy Rockville, Maryland

Some aspects of this partnership should be well known to all: frequent, open, consultative conversation, clear consensus on goals and expectations, sincere appreciation and candid constructive feedback. Just because they’re easy to list doesn’t mean that they’re easy to do, but you discard any of these at your peril.

A less intuitive key to success is friendship. Among all the other complex roles that we play in these positions—collaborator, supervisor, sounding board, ambassador, parent, therapist, teammate—it’s critical to remember that head of school is a human being in what can be a very lonely and isolating position. A board chair should be a friend who is keenly aware of their head’s well-being, state of mind, vulnerabilities, preferences and aspirations, and make it a priority to ask after them, their families and their future. Developing a deep friendship is an investment that yields a more effective and enjoyable working relationship.

Leadership Dispositions
Knowledge Topics