As part of my work at the YU School Partnership, I have the daily privilege of working in intimate relationships with over forty Jewish day schools in five communities on operational, financial, strategic and governance issues. In the process, I have observed all manner of school governance systems-- from the cutting edge to the non existent (where one individual or a small cabal makes all decisions and then struggles to implement them because no one else is on board!).
Successful practitioners of effective governance systems share four common characteristics. These factors are very similar to those cited in Steve Wunker’s January 23, 2012 post on the Harvard Business Review (HBR) Blog Network.
1. They have taken the time to carefully and clinically analyze their current situation: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and are not just “shooting from the hip.”
2. They identify the long term goals they are striving to achieve. Wunker’s HBR blog refers to this in terms of “Identify the destination.” These are the goals that will absorb the total energies of the school’s lay and professional leadership. Everyone in the organization knows them and internalizes them.
3. They identify options for achieving the goals in the form of strategic initiatives that will overcome organizational weaknesses and build on strengths.
4. They organize a “system” to execute these initiatives that becomes the consuming driver of full organizational purpose. Board of Directors activities and meetings, Board member recruitment, Administrative staff development and operational plans, and long term financial plans are unified in a systematic manner to achieve goals.
Winston Churchill has been quoted as saying that “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” The schools with effective governance systems become “fanatics” about their commitment to accomplishing their strategic goals, and won’t change their minds and won’t change the subject. Workplans and regular reviews of progress become the norm. And, guess what? They accomplish big new things.
Are Jewish day schools with good governance a myth or a reality? They exist, though they are far from universal. I have seen them in action. Two schools whose governance systems are noteworthy, come to mind. Both are in different stages of practicing effective governance, yet I judge both as effective. The first is a well established school, Beth Tfiloh, very ably led by Zipora Schorr, Director of Education, and Board President Tom Moran. Beth Tfiloh is currently engaged in the process of renewing its strategic goals. It has in place a remarkably capable Board nominating and succession process and a cadre of passionate, highly committed Board members just itching to finalize the latest set of strategic goals and initiatives and make them happen.
The second is a new school, Bnos Yisroel, ably led administratively by Executive Director Ahuvah Heyman and Board President Jason Reitberger. They are effective governance in formation. They are taking the trouble to assess their situation, define long term goals, and build a leadership cadre to carry them out. They struggle, but with the right issues, with these issues. What I can say about them is that prospective Board members who are privileged to join the Bnos Yisroel Board will find singleminded focus, professionalism that grows daily and an exciting place to serve and build.
In these challenging times, good governance in Jewish day schools is not an option. It is an imperative. How many of the four effective governance practices is your school following?
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