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Charter Board Partners

Board Chairs on Being a Board Chair

November 13, 2017 | by David Connerty-Marin

Recently, Shereen Williams offered up 10 tips for being a great board chair in two excellent videos (Part 1 and Part 2). We asked three board chairs for their top advice to new board chairs. Here’s what they said:

Susie Rosenbaum

Susie Rosenbaum

Susie is Board Chair at DC Bilingual PCS, which has worked extensively with Charter Board Partners since 2012 to recruit and train board members. 

Tip #1. Get the right people on the board. Charter Board Partners has been very helpful for us in that regard. When I came on, we were essentially a “friends and family” board. You have found for us some very skilled folks. Having the right people at the table is essential to good governance.

Tip #2. As a board chair, let those folks, and encourage those folks to share the skills they brought to the school and to help us become a better institution. Having the right set of skills at our board table has enabled us to make the progress we have made.

Tip #3. I think it’s really important—and it comes from having directed faculty for a number of years—that you really have to get to know the people around the table. It helps! I just got off a board; nobody really knew each other, there was no personal connection among the people around the table.

That’s a real goal of mine, to help people around table get to know each other. We have social events, we do a retreat, which I think is critically important, and get to know and like each other. If you don’t understand where someone’s coming from, you can’t really understand what they’re saying from a business sense. 


Dominique Fortune

Dominique Fortune

Dominique chairs the board of Lee Montessori PCS and has been a board member since 2013.

Tip #1. Communicate with your head of school. It’s important to have and maintain a collegial relationship with your ED. You don’t have to be best friends, but it’s critical that you’re in line and in sync and willing to think through things before you present them to the full board. Have extensive conversations, and involve a lot of outside people. Have an amicable, close relationship with the ED; otherwise you’ll have competing motivations that will make it harder for you both to ensure a successful organization.

Have a deliberate conversation about how the ED will realize the mission and vision of the board.  S/he knows how to actualize the dream the board and the founders have. It’s the board’s role to set the direction of the organization, and the ED’s job to be the expert who ensures that the school is yielding the outcomes--especially student outcomes--that are the reason for which the school was founded in the first place.

It’s our job to set clear expectations for the head of school, and to implement a rigorous evaluation process. Involve the full board. You can be best friends and still have to fire them if they’re doing a bad job.

Tip #2. Make sure everyone on the board has bought into the mission and vision, and is in line with the mission and vision in an actionable sense. Not just philosophically. Many charter board members who serve disadvantaged populations may say: “Yes, I want to support this population of students,” but they might not know what supporting that population means, and some of the tradeoffs that have to happen to make that happen. For Lee Montessori, it means expanding to serve students not typically afforded a Montessori-type of education.


Peter Winik

Peter is Board Chair at Ingenuity Prep, where he has been a board member for more than four years.

Peter Winik

Tip #1. Build effective relationships with various stakeholders—first and foremost with the school leadership. I have a standing weekly meeting or conference or video call with our head of school. 

Also, build effective relationships with board members, to make sure you know what they’re thinking, that they’re involved, and that you’re taking into account their feelings. Do coffee or lunch.

And build relationships with regulators—specifically the senior staff of the PCSB and with the broader education world, primarily in DC: Charter Board Partners, networking events, national conferences. I’ve met a lot of interesting people and learned a lot in the process.

Tip #2. Really educate yourself about things you probably didn’t know much about beforehand. In my case, I’m thinking specifically about the regulatory climate we operate under, and the various testing regimes: PARCC, PMF, and others.

In addition, educate yourself about the school’s finances. Make sure you understand where money comes from and how it’s being spent, and that you have effective compliance procedures in place.

Tip #3. Pay attention to development. Not all schools raise money or need to, but most do. And all schools could use more money. One role of an effective board chair is to make sure the school has adequate funding.

Tip #4. Strategic planning. We engaged in very extensive strategic planning over the past two years. We’re making sure we track compliance with the plan, or adjusting the plan, as needed as we go along.