As much as we might like to think of our schools or organizations as “well-oiled machines,” the truth is that the mechanics of leadership are actually quite messy. To take one example, the common practice of transitioning board chairs every couple of years means that there is a deliberate recalibration of a core driver of school success: the relationship between lead professional and board chair.
Proverbs 15:23 teaches, “A ready response is a joy to a person, And how good is a word rightly timed!” I take from this the recognition that there is such a thing as the “right time.” I might even paraphrase the verse to say, “How good is a leader rightly timed!”
I have been blessed in my tenure at Prizmah to have partnered with three extraordinary board chairs and look forward to welcoming my fourth, David Friedman, later this summer. Each relationship has taken shape against the backdrop of Prizmah’s own development. Our founding board chair, now Congresswoman Kathy Manning, helped birth Prizmah and establish the shape of this new organization at the beginning of its journey. Ann Pava, veteran of school and community-level leadership, brought her vision to a strategic plan that established clear priorities for a unified Prizmah, no longer a merger of legacy programs, as well as guiding us toward a sustainable future after the sunset of The AVI CHAI Foundation. Yehuda Neuberger, our current chair, strengthened the core identity of Prizmah as a network organization, and led us through Covid.
As Prizmah has emerged from its infancy, developmentally, we have had leaders to serve our corresponding stages. Board chairs are not only the CEO/head of school’s key lay partner, but are also instrumental in guiding the entire board to fulfill its role in setting and steering the strategy of the organization. At Prizmah, we benefit from a dynamic, hard-working board, and we are
constantly evolving ways in which our board and professional team connect and support the ultimate success of the day school field and our organization.
With the nomination of David Friedman as Prizmah’s fourth board chair, we mark another developmental milestone. David is the first chair to have joined Prizmah after the organization was up and running. Having met David thanks to a generous connection by a head of school, we invited him to join the board, and I am pleased that our relationship has developed against the backdrop of a growing and maturing organization. This fact characterizes our relationship, and, I hope, the productive work we will do together.
When we talk about structuring partnerships for success— whether it is establishing weekly meetings, as I have done with my board chair, or taking the time to nurture the personal side of the lay-professional relationship—we mean the intentional efforts we undertake to equip both partners with what they need, when they need it. Clear roles and priorities mitigate the inevitable changes in personality and relationships.
The tools needed to succeed in working with a board chair are widely documented, from setting and tracking annual objectives to a clear, shared understanding of our respective roles. Making sure there are “no surprises” for my chair aligns our ability to work together at a moment of key decisions. If our communication is sufficient and open, it becomes easier to navigate the boundaries in my role as executive, and theirs as lay leaders. Disagreements do happen, and difficult moments arise; I have had to develop ways in which to adapt to well-founded concerns, while working through the arguments for decisions where I may not have sufficiently made the case for the direction I believe to be right. This process normally sharpens the outcome.
As I look forward to welcoming David as the next chair, I am aided by the way in which he has been a partner in recent discussions between our current chair and me. The transparency we try to model is valuable in strengthening continuity of strategy, as well as fostering the culture of the organization and the relationship.
This issue of HaYidion contains findings from Prizmah’s research on lay leaders and how their involvement in school, relationship with professional leaders and personal temperaments all contribute to thriving schools. I count myself—and Prizmah—to have been blessed with partners in our board chairs and members who guide and fulfill their role as “critical friends,” who contribute generously to our success, and who help advance our work in support of the broader field.