In our industry, job roles have changed immensely. School heads are more CEOs than “master teachers.” Directors of Enrollment Management require a whole host of skills that go way beyond being “charming.” Business Managers have now become Chief Financial Officers, advantaged by an MBA. Teachers have moved from the “sage on the stage” to become learning specialists armed with the latest brain research to be able to individuate instruction to each student.
And huge shifts are also shaking the roles of Trustees. As competition increases, they, too must take on more than their traditional role as fiduciary overseers. If they want to ensure the school’s sustainability and resilience, their ambassadorial role is paramount.
Primarily drawn from the school’s parents, trustee's natural inclination was to make decisions from their child’s desk, so to speak. Now they need to move from being insular to being able to bring to bear the resources of their collective network and connections in civic organizations, the media, government, other boards they may serve on, and other schools and universities. Independent schools need civic partners! We are non-profits, and the public good needs to be at the heart of our mission.
Key today is getting the community into the school and the school into the community in order to give students “real world” exposure. Trustees are a natural for making those connections, which will provide students great educational experiences, as well as raise the school's visibility and help the school to be seen as an asset to the community.
In this consumer-driven economy, it’s also important that trustees have objective data about the quality of their school’s product (teaching and learning) and how the audience their school serves – and seeks to serve – experiences and perceive its value. They need to ensure that they have a clear view of enrollment feasibility and forecasts. Such data will inform the very decisions that will determine whether the school they hold “in trust” will thrive for future generations.
Boards are responsible for sustainability. I suggest that objective market research needed to ensure wise decisions should come from a board gift, not out of operations budgets, which may compete with teacher salaries and program.
In business terms, market research is an investment in future revenue. Boards need to be demanding it. Great boards are willing to pay for it.
(This article first appeared in The Trustee's Letter (Nov/Dec 2016), published by Educational Directions Incorporated, Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Educational Directions is a leading administrative search and consulting firm).