May 2020

Member query:

How should the Governance Committee and the Board of Trustees go about conducting the Head of School’s annual performance review, analyzing compensation benchmarking data, and setting compensation this year? As you know, HOS goals agreed upon at the beginning of the year are not all attainable, the HOS has shifted priorities to respond to the impact of COVID-19, and comparative data on compensation in this kind of economic environment is not available. We are in uncharted territory.


Reply from Cathy Trower:

One of the most important responsibilities of a governing board is to evaluate the Head of School. The Head’s “annual” performance appraisal should be “annual,” despite the current crisis (unless it is too overwhelming in which case it could be postponed). That does not mean that it must take the same form as usual. For example, you might include a smaller group of people in the assessment this year–perhaps just board officers. And, although the “HOS goals set at the beginning of the year are not all attainable” surely some of them have been met and that progress should be assessed and documented. Something the board should be assessing is how the HOS is handling the crisis. This means that the board should also be thinking about its own performance in supporting the HOS and giving the HOS appropriate feedback throughout this ordeal. The idea here is not to cast aspersions or stand on the sidelines and grouse; rather, the board chair should be a partner in the process of thinking aloud with HOS, providing counsel and advice when asked, and to just be a sounding board. The HOS is under enormous pressure right now, so don’t pile on. Any good performance review is a dialogue and now may not the time for that dialogue, specifically, but I encourage you to talk to your HOS about what s/he thinks about the annual review and what s/he needs. Some of that may depend on her/his tenure. In terms of compensation, this may be a time when the HOS wishes to take no raise or even a cut (something many university and college presidents and their senior admin teams are doing). Comparative data are always available.