September 2018

Member query:

As we work on writing goals for our head for the upcoming year, we are struggling with articulating a measurable goal for our head that does not create unintended consequences (such as acceptance of students who are not a good fit). If you have any suggestions, would you please share them?

We also are looking for goals for both the board and the head to adopt around trustee engagement.


Reply from Cathy Trower:

In my opinion, goals for the Head of School should always be written by the Head and not the Board. This does not mean that the Board doesn’t have input, but there should be a dialogue between the Head and Board leadership about the Head’s goals rather than the Board taking a heavy-handed approach and pronouncing goals for the Head; after all, the Head has much more knowledge of the situation than anyone on the Board. An enrollment goal should be constructed within the pre-existing parameters the school has in place for ensuring that students who are accepted are a good fit for the school and meet other preexisting criteria. Thus, a goal could be something like this: “Within the context of our current parameters and pre-existing criteria, increase enrollment by X% over last year.” Goals should be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Timebound. I believe they should also be realistic, so I would make that SMARRT (adding “realistic”).

As for trustee engagement, it depends on the situation at hand. Is there an attendance problem where trustees are not showing up for meeting? Is there a giving problem where trustees are not contributing to annual funds or capital campaigns? Is it that trustees how up for meetings but are constantly checking their electronic devices rather than engaging in the meeting? (And what are some of the root “causes” for that? Are trustees getting materials so late that they don’t have time to prepare? Are they primarily listening to reports, rather than having time to dive into critical issues? Is asking questions at meeting frowned upon? Is there no time for dialogue on the agenda?) Once such questions have been asked and addressed, goals for the Board might include: “Ensure 100% participation in the annual fund” or “Ensure 90% attendance at Board meetings” or “Ensure that all trustees serve on at least one committee and attend committee meetings regularly.” Without knowing more about a specific situation, it is difficult to set goals; again, that’s why the Head and Board should discuss goals for the Head and for the Board. The Head’s goals will be about ensuring support for the Board to engage and the Board’s will be about ensuring that engagement occurs (and that there are provisions to address poor trustee performance/engagement). A Statement of Trustee Expectations goes a long way to help with trustee engagement; such statements delineate what’s expected of trustees so that there is no doubt. Then, the Governance Committee (or Nominating & Governance Committee or Committee on Trusteeship) hold individuals accountable for performance.