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Charter Board Partners

It started with an email

January 31, 2019 | by David Connerty-Marin

KANSAS CITY — Lisa Ford was hesitant. Would she have enough time? Did she have the experience? Would she be joining a functioning board? But she was impressed and comforted by the very organized process so far.

Eugene “Gene” Augustine, the board president at Frontier Schools in Kansas City, knew that his board needed to become more diverse and to be more sophisticated about the way it monitored its schools. Lisa was an experienced finance person who could lead a new finance committee, and could bring a fresh perspective to the board.

The process that brought Lisa Ford to join Frontier School’s board illustrates what a successful board matchmaking experience can (and should!) be like for prospective board candidates and the boards that need them.

Gene’s precision in the process was no accident. “It was a process that Shereen (Williams, of Charter Board Partners) laid out for me,” he says. “I followed it. It was a lot of work, numerous meetings and phone conversations. But the work paid off.”

“It seemed like Gene followed the checklist to a T,” says Lisa. “He wanted to onboard me in the right way, and make sure it was a good fit for both of us. I absolutely think (the process) made a difference.”

Eugene Augustine
          Eugene Augustine

It started with an email from Shereen, CBP’s Chief Governance and Recruitment Strategy Officer, who had identified Lisa as someone who might be interested in serving on a charter school board and who could bring relevant experience.

Lisa was intrigued. Her daughter was a teacher at a charter school in Atlanta, so there was a meaningful connection. And she was at a point in her career where she felt she had an obligation to contribute and an opportunity to learn something new. She attended an information session led by Shereen and met other potential board members. She appreciated that CBP partners with School Smart Kansas City, a well-respected organization that is working to create high quality school opportunities for students. “I was like: this is the real deal.“

Gene had been president of the board at Frontier Schools since the first campus opened in 2007. He knew it was time to change the way the board added new members.

“Typically, we found new board members by looking around us at people we worked with, people we knew from the community, people who are capable and interested in education,” he says. “We had good luck with it, but I would say it was ‘luck’ that brought in good members. By choosing people myself, I was choosing people like myself.”

Shereen matched three candidates, including Lisa, to the board for consideration. Gene formed a board committee to review the candidates. The committee identified Lisa as the one who best  fit their needs; Gene reached out and spoke with her by phone.

Later, Lisa had lunch with Gene and several board members. “He was very positive, very complimentary,” she says. He had prepared a packet of information with the school’s bylaws and financials. She reviewed the materials meticulously and felt the school was financially stable, a plus for her. 

By the time she had gone on a lengthy and thorough tour of the elementary school and then the middle school, where she met teachers and students, it no longer seemed so daunting. “I could envision how I could contribute,” she says. The last step in the process involved Lisa attending a board meeting.  

The board enthusiastically voted Lisa on. Gene asked her to start up and lead a finance committee, the first time the board would have one. Lisa turned to Shereen for information and guidance about starting this important committee.

For Gene, the positive experience went well beyond the successful onboarding of Lisa. By participating in the SSKC-CBP partnership, Frontier’s board attended the CBP Governance Academy training, received a full board assessment (CBP’s Board Effectiveness Diagnostic), and received customized coaching and support. Gene made sure his board took advantage of all of it.

“We now have three active committees and one active task force, all since September,” says Gene. “It was a careful process and it all came out of CBP, including guidelines for every committee. We’re moving in a way we haven’t before.”

The school performance committee is looking at the school’s progress toward academic goals. The governance committee is picking up the tasks related to evaluating the head of schools, and changes to their policies and bylaws. “Those things would not happen without a committee structure,” he says.

“I feel very positively about the progress we’ve made and I think CBP has been a big part of that,” says Gene. “We moved from a sedentary board to a more active board, with more oversight of every aspect of our program. I feel we are a much stronger board as a result.

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