Great Boards for Great Schools

By Tom Vander Ark and Brian Jones
As the Kids Count data showed yesterday, about two thirds of U.S. 4th graders are not proficient in reading and two thirds of 8th graders are not proficient in math–83% and 86%, respectively, for African American youth. It’s never been more important for families to have access to quality educational options.
We know good schools change lives–sometime increasing the potential of finishing a degree by an order of magnitude in underserved communities. Good schools change communities by lifting expectations, reinforcing positive values, preparing thoughtful citizens, and building property values. That’s why we feel so strongly about expanding access to quality schools.
We know good schools have strong leaders. We usually think of principals but it’s boards that hire and evaluate a head of school. Good boards make sure that schools focus on student achievement. Good boards acknowledge that when a school is not good, it should change dramatically or close.
As board chairs for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and Charter Board Partners (CBP) we’re pleased to announce a partnership to strengthen the boards of public charter schools across the country. Through this partnership charter boards will gain access to information, tools, and resources to support strong charter school governance and improve charter school quality.
The National Alliance and CBP are two of the leading national organizations focused on improving charter school quality and this partnership highlights how important governance is to quality. Quite simply, good boards help create good schools.
Many boards around the country are exercising quality leadership. They hire, evaluate and support great principals.  They conduct succession planning so when the founder leaves, there is a smooth transition to a new leader who has been cultivated and prepared. They help obtain financing so great school can expand to serve more students. They operate in a fiscally sound and transparent manner. They build a strong school community and ties to the broader community. Good boards perpetuate themselves by regularly identifying new board members so as members step off, the board remains strong.
Many boards are not exercising this kind of leadership. They defer to school heads and assume that everything is going well. Don’t get accurate or complete information about what’s going on in the organization or they assume that because test scores are rising, all is well. Some accept mediocrity in academic performance rather than pushing for excellence and improvement. Some allow personal conflict and dynamics to get in the way of what’s best for the school.
Most boards need help! Most board members are well intentioned but many just don’t know how important their role is to the health and sustainability of their school.  They need better information, tools, and supports. Good governance is hard work—that’s true throughout the nonprofit sector, but especially in public education where charter boards are relatively new.
This partnership will help get CBP’s knowledge, resources, tools,information, and expertise about good governance into the hands of charter school board members so they get the help they need, when they need it, in a form they can easily access and use. Through the partnership, we will also work together to influence the national discussion about charter school quality and make sure charter school board members, authorizers, legislators, funders, and others recognize that strong boards are the foundation for strong schools.
CBP is launching GreatBoards, an online program that will give access to its best practice governance tools and resources to every charter school board in the country; the National Alliance will help promote and support this program through its work with state charter associations and its communications with charter school boards nationwide.
Brian Jones is Chair of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Former Chair of DC Public Charter School Board, and SVP and General Counsel, Strayer University

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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