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Sustaining Good Governance In AISA Schools

POSTED: March 16, 2020Category: AISA ArticlesBY: Barnabas Suva

By Rick Detwiler, David Chojnacki and Teresa Arpin

“More than ever before, boards of international independent schools can make a vital difference in the advancement and success of their institutions.”

In her forward to the NAIS monograph, International Trustee Handbook; A Guide to Effective Governance for International Independent School Boards, 2nd Edition (Chojnacki and Detwiler, 2019), National Association of Independent Schools President Donna Orem captures the opportunity our AISA schools’ boards of trustees have in making their schools thrive. Truly, good governance is the foundation of an effective school, a fact recognized by AISA. Sustaining good governance in our communities is not easy, but it can be done. In order to achieve that goal, we need to know what good governance looks like, why it is important, the current context and challenges, and how we might move forward in that quest.

Good Governance – What Is It?

The AISA Code of Governance (2016) “clearly defines roles and responsibilities and provides a roadmap that they [boards of trustees] can use to set the strategic direction for their school and monitor progress against that vision, thus enhancing the effectiveness of their governance function.” The code consists of seven domain areas, articulating a set of “standards” describing what effective governance looks like:

1. Clear Roles & Responsibilities

2. Fiduciary Responsibilities

3. Effective Governance

4. Boards as Strategists and Visionaries

5. Sustaining the Head of School

6. Conducting the Business of the Board

7. Board Oversight of School Success

The code is based on the Board Development Curriculum created by the authors under the auspices of the NESA Council of Overseas Schools and serves as a comprehensive index of what trustees need to know and be able to do. Based on a thorough review of the literature on good governance, those seven domains cover the gamut. Yes, we know what good governance looks like!

Good Governance – Why It Matters

The “opportunity” that Donna Orem describes is but one reason why good governance is vital to our AISA schools. More fundamentally, it matters because accreditation requires it! All the major accreditation agencies used by AISA schools require certain governance structures and practices, including board development. We are not alone in establishing the importance of our boards functioning at a high level. A 2016 BoardSource survey of 22,000 CEOs and board chairs of non-profit organizations such as our schools identified “the board’s understanding of its roles and responsibilities and the board’s ability to work as a collaborative team toward shared goals as the two particular board characteristics that have the greatest impact on organizational performance.”

Whether it is in fulfilling its fiduciary responsibility for protecting the school or its critical role in determining the strategic direction for the school, boards of trustees are uniquely accountable for school effectiveness.

The Challenges

In our work developing and facilitating over 200 board training retreats and dozens of conference workshops worldwide – including in the AISA region, the authors have recognized that school boards face a number of challenges. First and foremost is the high turnover of trustees. A board works hard to optimize its work in all seven domains and the next year they have a whole new team. Turnover of board chairs and heads of school exacerbates this challenge. Secondly, addressing the range of needs and capabilities of different boards requires differentiation of content, delivery mode, and style. In our experience, each board retreat is slightly different, and even within a well-functioning board team, different individuals and different boards have different needs. Thirdly, and inevitably, the barrier of affordability has a major impact on schools in the Africa region. Small schools cannot afford hiring a consultant, and most schools find travel costs to conferences, etc. to be prohibitive. Finally, the overarching difficulty of sustainability – maintaining good governance practice – is ever-present; coping with internal (e.g. turnover) or external (natural disasters, political calamities, economic turns, etc.) factors is a challenge prominent throughout Africa.

Moving Forward

The good news is we know what good governance is; the bad news is delivering that knowledge and practice is not easy.

Nevertheless, there is hope….

  • The International Trustee Handbook 2nd Edition (available through NAIS.org) presents a comprehensive, yet readable description of good governance practices, including a “What Can The Board of Trustees Do” list of tips for each chapter and over a dozen appendices of guidelines and tools boards can adopt and use. Boards currently use this book as a “summer read” for new trustees or in a “guided study” model for the whole board.
  • Board training, for those schools that can afford it, is readily available either through on-site board retreats, with a consultant or led by the chair and head of school, [NOTE: guidelines for planning retreats are available from the authors] or at institutes and conferences sponsored by AISA and other organizations.
  • Early next year AISA hopes to offer the “Leading Together” learning institute that targets the Chair/head of school. Facilitated by Rick Detwiler, this is a new initiative sponsored by the US Department of State Office of Overseas Schools and the Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE) wherein the focus is on enabling the chair/head of school partnership to lead their boards in effective governance. The institute is based on the premise that given access to the resources and tools needed to lead their boards, the Chair /Head partnership can guide and embed good governance at their own schools. (For more information on the ‘Leading Together’ program description please see NESAcenter.org Events)

And a few “coming attractions” now being developed by AISA…

    • expansion of the AISA Visiting Consultant Programme to encompass governance training
    • plans for creating an online “Governance 101” course for trustees
    • arrangements for a Professional Learning Institute-type workshop on governance, offered in a central location, accessible to nearby schools

Final Remarks

AISA has recommitted itself to supporting board of trustee development in all manners and forms. As AISA Executive Director Peter Bateman recently wrote to the authors, “… the intention is to [identify] the “governance learning” gaps [that] need to be filled in our schools (in all their diversity) that will result in the embedding of a sustained culture of good governance (sic) practice in our schools.” Truly, sustaining a culture of good governance practice is what is meant by the adage that ultimately, trustees are accountable for the future of their school.

About the Authors

Rick, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana, has worked with school boards as head of five international schools in Israel, Bangladesh, Hungary, Brazil, and Nepal over a 21-year career overseas, and more recently as a governance consultant.

Currently, Rick consults with Boards of Trustees in international school governance, having conducted board training, policy review, and strategic planning workshops for over fifty schools and regional organizations throughout the world over the past seven years. Most recently, Rick and colleague David Chojnacki developed the AAIE-sponsored “Leading-Up” project, focused on empowering Board Chairs and Heads of School to work effectively leading their boards in good governance practice. Finally, Rick and David have just authored the NAIS International Trustee Handbook, 2nd edition, published in January 2019.

Dr. Teresa Arpin is the President of Transformation Systems, working with educational organizations since 1996. She specializes in leadership development, strategic planning, governance and organizational transformation. In her role with Transformation she has helped schools measure the impact of their strategic plans. Teresa has worked with boards of trustees, schools and school districts large and small across the United States, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Her work has also included facilitating strategic planning processes for five international regional education associations which include NESA, CEESA, EARCOS, AISA and AASSA.

David Chojnacki

David is a senior consultant with a focus on international headships. He works as a consultant to international schools in effective trusteeship and has presented workshops on good governance at regional conferences. He is the co-author of the international version of the NAIS Trustee Handbook. David has also been involved in a number of international Head of School searches and consultancies.

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