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Charter Board Partners

CBP Teams Up with SchoolSmartKC to Bolster Charter School Board Effectiveness

September 10, 2018 | by David Connerty-Marin
Cokethea Hill

At CBP, our ability to do our work well relies on strong partnerships with mission-aligned groups working to improve quality, equity, and accountability in cities around the country. Since last fall, we have partnered with SchoolSmartKC, a nonprofit organization working to expand the number of quality schools and influence the policy environment to support school improvement in Kansas City, Missouri. We are honored to be part of SSKC’s thoughtful, results-focused strategy to ensure that all students in Kansas City have the chance to attend an excellent school.

CBP’s work, in partnership with SSKC, includes recruiting new board members from across the city, training them on how to be effective board members, matching them to boards, and providing deep-dive training to current board members to help them better understand what they are supposed to do and how to do it well. We had a chance recently to chat about this work with Cokethea Hill, Director of Community and Family Engagement at SSKC. 

Hill says her organization wants to accomplish two major goals through its partnership with CBP. The first goal is to sustain and support the development of exceptional board leadership through training tools for existing board members and cultivating a diverse pipeline of future board leaders. They want to help charter school board members understand that they have a broad role—one that goes beyond just academic performance to include effective government strategies, legal compliance, support and assessment of exceptional leaders, and fundraising for fiscal solvency. That means equipping board members with the right tools to be effective, such as CBP’s Standards for Effective Charter School Governance

“CBP takes this really thoughtful, intentional approach, not only to recruiting but also to walking through what you may need and finding ideal candidates for each board, and that’s key,” Hill says. “If the purpose of a school is to deliver high quality instruction and a safe and nurturing environment that helps kids to be successful in life, then all the metrics about financials and so on should ultimately drive toward that goal. We want board members to be able to ask the tough questions and hold leaders accountable, but also to give them autonomy and flexibility to drive toward those goals. People enter into governance with a lot of different assumptions about why they are there. We want to make sure we expose people to the true purpose and meaning and intention of having a school governance role.”

The second goal of the initiative from SSKC’s perspective is to bring board members together and build connections and a sense of community among them, so they can network, compare notes, and learn from each other how to approach complex issues like planning for succession or expansion or addressing financial management.

Hill says she especially appreciates CBP’s focus on diversity and equity. “I think many of our boards would say they are open and inclusive, but that’s not always reflected in their board composition,” she says. “It’s important to have the opportunity to really have some pushes on that, and to talk about what happens when you have groupthink. Are you really helping this board be as critical, thoughtful, intentional, and skilled as it needs to be? Having a third party come in and have courageous conversations—that’s something that’s really needed.”

Hill believes that board members of all the schools in SSKC’s portfolio can benefit from the governance training, strategies, coaching, and recruitment efforts provided by CBP. While higher-performing schools face fewer challenges in terms of strengthening academics, many of them are poised to expand to serve more students; central to SSKC’s approach is making sure that high performing schools have the boards they need to successfully expand.

The Kansas City public charter schools participating in this work include: Académie Lafayette, Citizens of the World Kansas City, Crossroads Charter Schools, Ewing Marion Kauffman Schools, Frontier Schools, Gordon Parks Elementary, Guadalupe Centers Charter Schools, Kansas City Neighborhood Academy, Scuola Vita Nuova, and University Academy.

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