Effective Practices : Governance


The Board of Trustees
Governance Section 1

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1. The Board of Trustees is the only legally required body in a Waldorf school, and is ultimately responsible for the effective governance of the school so that its strategic ends are achieved. Describe the size of your school’s Board of Trustees and the way in which those trustees are selected.
2. How often and in what way is the Board of Trustees evaluated as a body? With who is this information shared? Also, describe the way in which individual trustees are evaluated and feedback given on their work.
3. How long is the tenure of an individual selected to serve as a trustee? Are terms renewable, or are they limited in some way?
4. Boards typically view their work in one of two ways operational/managerial or strategic/policy oriented. These two types are recognized by the kind of tasks and authority that are retained in the Board of Trustees, and by the tasks and decision making authority that are delegated elsewhere. Please describe the work of your Board from this perspective, and describe in particular the primary tasks of the Board and those which it has formally delegated to others.
5. Does your Board have any committees? If yes, please describe them including their mandated authority and responsibility and the manner in which they are staffed.
6. What is your school’s philosophy with regard to the work of the Board of Trustees? What are the guiding lights that illuminate and inform the way in which the Trustees work?
7. What is working particularly well at your school with regard to your Board of Trustees?
8. If there were something you could change with regard to your Board of Trustees, what would it be and why?

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The Board of Trustees is the only legally required body in a Waldorf school, and is ultimately responsible for the effective governance of the school so that its strategic ends are achieved. Describe the size of your school’s Board of Trustees and the way in which those trustees are selected.

The size of the Board of Trustees in a Waldorf School is typically limited to 15 or 16 members in its by-laws. In some cases this total includes the ex-officio members of the Board (individuals who are Board members by virtue of their office) while in other cases the total Board size is 15 plus the ex officio members.

Schools with strong Boards are careful to ensure their membership includes those with a depth of knowledge in various areas of the school, as well as practical business experience in the larger community. A very large Board might include up to 15 members of the community plus the administrative chair, business manager, director of enrollment, director of development and two college members. A smaller board might have a dozen members in total including the administrative chair, the faculty chair, the parent association chair and one or two faculty members.

It is common practice for schools to ensure that a majority of the voting Board members are non-employees. This requirement is often spelled out explicitly in the by-laws.

New Board candidates are identified by a standing committee which is often called the Committee for Board Development. This committee typically includes the Board president, another member of the Board, the administrative chair and a faculty member. In a few cases a Board will select an ad hoc task group to pick up this work each year, but most Boards find that having consistency over time in the Board Development process is of value. In addition to identifying and recruiting new members the Committee for Board Development is also responsible for conducting the annual self review process for the Board as a body and for its individual members.

When looking for new Board members the Committee, working with input from the full Board, will identify the skills and abilities it is looking for in new members. It is important that the trustees include people with a wide variety of professional skills. Members with general business experience, financial training, legal experience, or a strong background in Waldorf education are all necessary participants in a strong board. It is important to note that the individuals with these various backgrounds are not expected to come as representatives of the constituency from which they come, but instead to put their expertise to work in service to the Board to ensure that the school as a whole is effective in achieving its mission. Often prospective Board members will have served for at least a year on one or more committees of the Board. This experience helps to ensure that the candidate understands the work of the Board, and for Board members to be sure that a candidate is a good fit in the trustee circle.

In addition to these professional skills Boards look for individuals who can work in a particular way. These skills are described by the AWSNA Board of Trustees as:

  • Visionary thinkers who can see alternate futures, people who see what is possible and take joy in creating the future.
  • Conceptual thinkers who see the full impact of various approaches and are able to remain flexible.
  • Able to connect with the “moral ownership” of the school, rather than with the constituency from which they come.
  • Morally courageous and able to raise uncomfortable issues.
  • Able to work in a group and willing to work personally to see that the group is effective.
  • Able to accept and use authority.
  • Able to let others lead.

Most of the Waldorf school boards are self perpetuating, that is they select and vote on their own members.

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How often and in what way is the Board of Trustees evaluated as a body? With who is this information shared? Also, describe the way in which individual trustees are evaluated and feedback given on their work. Effective Boards evaluate their effectiveness on an ongoing basis. There is typically an end of the year review process in which the Board looks back on the successes and disappointments of the past year, and areas of focus for the coming year are identified.

Some Boards have an annual self review process for all trustees, while other Boards engage in a review process with trustees as their individual terms are expiring and before considering asking them to return for a second term. Some schools have had success with a review process obtained through the NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) which aids in evaluating the work of the Board as a whole as well as that of individual trustees. (See: Board Evaluation Processes for more information and sample forms.)

In addition to these formal review processes successful Boards have a bias for ongoing evaluation. They listen to each other carefully throughout the year, and are quickly responsive to questions and concerns that may surface in the community about their work and processes. Significant concerns are addressed immediately rather than waiting for an end of year review process.

The results of the year end review of the Board are often shared with the school community, sometimes in a school wide letter or at a back to school meeting in the fall in conjunction with a presentation on the objectives and challenges for the coming year.

Several schools noted that an important part of their work to strengthen their efforts as a Board is their commitment to ongoing study together as a Board. This practice helps the group, which often includes many people who are not deeply versed in Waldorf education or Anthroposophy, keep in touch with the goals of the education and helps ensure the appropriateness of its actions. Books that were mentioned as being the basis for particularly helpful Board studies include:

Republican, Not Democratic, Ernst Lehrs, AWSNA Publications

The Spirit of the Waldorf School, Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophic Press, 1999, ISBN #0-88010-394-9

Freeing the Human Spirit: The Threefold Social Order, Money, and the Waldorf School, Michael Spence, AWSNA Publications, 1999, ISBN #1-888365-21-8

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How long is the tenure of an individual selected to serve as a trustee? Are terms renewable, or are they limited in some way?

All of the schools with effective Boards of Trustees have either two or three year terms of office for their trustees. Most schools do not limit the number of terms that a trustee may serve, although some require a one year break in service prior to serving a third term as a trustee.

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Boards typically view their work in one of two ways operational/managerial or strategic/policy oriented. These two types are recognized by the kind of tasks and authority that are retained in the Board of Trustees, and by the tasks and decision making authority that are delegated elsewhere. Please describe the work of your Board from this perspective, and describe in particular the primary tasks of the Board and those which it has formally delegated to others.

The schools with effective governance and strong Boards reported that they have consciously shifted their focus and emphasis over the years away from operations and a managerial focus toward a strategic and policy oriented approach. Often in the early years of a school’s development there is inadequate office staff to manage all of the administrative tasks required to operate a school, and these tasks are often taken up by volunteers. It is common for these volunteers to be the same dedicated professionals who are already serving on the Board of Trustees, and for them to confuse their volunteerism with the work that they do as trustees. This gives the impression that the Board is an operating Board, but in truth the volunteers are holding these jobs in trust for the future employees who will take up these tasks when the school grows to an appropriate size. During these early days Boards may find that little time is available for strategy and policy setting, as the task of maintaining ongoing operations is a large one.

All of the schools in our study described themselves as having consciously moved away from a focus on operations and towards a strategic and policy oriented approach. In these well governed schools operations are left in the hands of capable members of the administration.

A strong committee life is another factor which allows a school’s Board to move out of operations and into strategy and a focus on the future. Strong, well organized committees that are given clear mandates and the authority to do their work manage many of the aspects of work at the school, freeing the Board from this task. As one school observed, “The best and highest purpose of the school is served when the Board focuses on planning for the future.” This purpose can only be realized when management and ongoing operations are clearly delegated to employees and committees of the school.

In schools with good governance the pedagogical operations of the school are managed by the faculty, usually under the guidance of a College of Teachers or core faculty group. With increasing frequency schools are creating the position of Pedagogical Chair, an administrator that works on behalf of the College to coordinate the administrative aspects of the pedagogy. These responsibilities include oversight of curriculum scope and sequence and the hiring and professional development of the teaching staff. Other senior members of the administrative team typically include a Community Development Chair and an Administrative Chair.

Decisions that are retained in the Board often include the final approval of the budget, although not the detailed making of the budget. The policy aspects of dismissal of employees are a Board responsibility, with the interface with the school’s legal counsel managed by the Administrative Chair. The Board is responsible for the hiring of the Administrative Chair, Community Development chair, and any other directly reporting administrative personnel, although it will seek the support of the College for its selections. It will also approve or affirm the selection by the College of the Pedagogical Chair.

The Board will also identify areas in which key policies need to be developed, and ensure that they are articulated. Policies of this type might include those governing employee discipline, the reporting of child abuse, or the setting of financial and investment policies. The Board is also responsible for ensuring the school has an effective strategic planning process.

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Does your Board have any committees? If yes, please describe them including their mandated authority and responsibility and the manner in which they are staffed.

Waldorf school boards have a number of committees. An Executive Committee of the Board is the most common. Its members typically include the officers of the Board, and its focus is on the creation of agendas for upcoming meetings, follow up on action items delegated by the Board, and attending to critical issues that come up between meetings.

Most Boards also have a Committee for Board Development, a group that is responsible for identifying potential Board members, orienting and training them, overseeing the Board’s self evaluation processes, and organizing the Board study and artistic activities.

A Site Development Committee is another frequently seen committee. Its emphasis is on the development of the school site in the long term.

The Strategic Planning Committee helps keep the school and the Board operating at a high strategic level. The committee helps craft the implementation of the school’s strategic plan and creates a five year plan to give direction to the school.

A Human Resources Committee handles policy development for employee matters.

The Finance Committee creates financial policies the independent auditing function.

In addition to these common Board committees there are a number of other committees that are more operational in nature. While every school in our study had one or more of these operating committees reporting directly to the Board of Trustees, all of the schools noted that more and more of these functions were being delegated to senior staff members who are then free to create their own committees to support them in their work. These transitional Board-to-Operations committees include Building and Grounds, Marketing/Outreach/Enrollment, Community Development/Fundraising Committee, Budget and Finance Committee, and the Tuition Assistance Committee.

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What is your school’s philosophy with regard to the work of the Board of Trustees? What are the guiding lights that illuminate and inform the way in which the Trustees work?

Members of the Board of Trustees are expected to serve the whole school. They may not join with the expectation of advancing a particular agenda item, nor may they act as the representative of the part of the school from which they come (parent, faculty, etc.) They must have a genuine wish to serve the whole school and are expected to place their particular area of knowledge or expertise to work in service to the whole school. The Board works to support a very well defined and socially important type of education. The world would be a poorer place if it were not available. The Board must continually represent those ideals and manifest them in the school community and beyond. It is not enough to meet the standards for a non-profit Board in general; the Board’s work must represent Waldorf education. The Board’s work and the way in which it is achieved must reflect the ideals of Waldorf education.

The Board has a fiduciary responsibility for ensuring that the whole school works, and has a bias toward working at the strategic rather than operational level. The Board sees its responsibility as creating policy and structure that enable the school to attract and retain the very best teachers and to do the very best job with the students in its care.

All Board members must have a genuine interest in the impulse of Waldorf education. They may not all be studied in Anthroposophy but they respect the underlying philosophy and the role of the faculty in holding the pedagogical work. They are committed to study and deepening their own understanding of the basis for Waldorf education.

The Trustees understand that their role is to provide the strategic big picture that informs all of the ongoing operational work of the school. They don’t infringe in matters of pedagogy or operational administration. They are hands off yet strongly committed to the success of the school.

The Board leads by working as a servant to the cause of Waldorf education.

The Board recognizes that the teachers are in the best position to make pedagogical decisions at the school, and the Board provides them with the basic framework within which to make those decisions.

The Board recognizes the importance of confidentiality given the sometimes sensitive issues that it works with, and is committed to maintaining this circle of trust among its members. There are no parking lot conversations among members of the Board.

The Board encourages healthy discussion and debate. It is open to all ideas and wants to explore issues thoroughly rather than working out of prejudices and assumption. The Trustees work actively to create an environment that allows everyone to bring in their very best ideas.

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What is working particularly well at your school with regard to your Board of Trustees?

The Board of Trustees is effective at maintaining a high level of strategic perspective in its work.

A committee structure informed by the concept of Republican Academies allows committees to be entrusted to do the work while the Board works at a high level to keep plans moving ahead and providing policy and strategic oversight.

The separation of responsibility between the Board and the faculty is exceptionally clear. The Board does not involve itself in matters of pedagogy.

There is a respect for people’s time. People are allowed to do their work and given the authority to get things done along with the responsibility to make things happen.

The Board meetings are well run and do not run overly long. This is a direct result of having strong committees and a great staff that are allowed to manage the daily affairs of the school.

Board members are personally generous with their gifts and also fiscally conservative with the school’s resources.

The Board chair meets once a month with the leadership group of the school. He is in weekly contact with the administrator and with the faculty chair. They offer each other help and support in a professional and personal way.

A joint Board/Faculty meeting is held at least twice a year. At these meetings we do real work together and engage in meaningful conversation. We might all confirm the final wording of a mission statement, or discuss important considerations for a proposed benefits package. The agenda is set jointly by the board chair and faculty chair, and the focus of the meeting is always on meaningful dialog and listening.

The Board makes presentations to the parents at the school twice a year, and informs them of the school’s strategic goals, major issues facing the school, and a general assessment of the school’s performance.

The Board respects the role of the faculty. While Board members may not be able to talk eloquently of the threefold social order, in their work for the school they are aware of the different qualities of the pedagogical, rights/legal realm, and the economic/development area. They recognize the potential tension between these areas and the need to keep a living balance between all three for the school to be healthy.

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If there were something you could change with regard to your Board of Trustees, what would it be and why?

The evaluation of the Board as a body and of the individual trustees needs to be strengthened and more formalized.

Succession planning and Board development are two areas that always require attention. It would be wonderful to have one or more board members who are members of the larger community rather than parents at the school.

We would like to have more interactive time with the College of Teachers. The more time we spend together the better the school is served and the better we understand what they want to achieve. We look forward to having three joint Board/College meetings next year.

While the Board does a good job of removing itself from pedagogy at times it will encroach into areas of administration and community development. We need continued vigilance on this front to build habits that are more appropriate for our school’s stage of development.


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