"In the Know" Weekly Newsletter - The International School

From Board President Scott Kerman

Last week, I had the great pleasure of speaking on a panel at an event hosted by Capital Pacific Bank.  I was joined on the panel by Pam Dreisin, Head of School at the French American International School, and Meade Thayer, Executive Director of the Pacific Northwest Association of Independent Schools (PNAIS).  The topic was Board Governance, and our audience included dozens of school board trustees, heads of school, and other administrative staff, as well as representatives from other non-profit organizations.

As thrilled as I was to be invited onto this panel and to have participated in what was a wonderful event, the idea I most took away from the evening was what this moment signified for The International School.   As TIS Trustee and alumni parent Sean Onitsuka remarked, my participation on the panel showcased how far TIS has come and how much we have to be proud of.  During the panel discussion, Meade Thayer listed the many qualities of successful, professional boards--a revised by-laws, a recent strategic plan, sound recruitment and retention procedures, Board-approved policies for a variety of important issues, and a strong relationship with the head of school.  As Meade talked, Sean, Trustee Bill Seidl (who also attended), and I exchanged knowing nods of approval because our Board has every one of these qualities, most of which we owe to past President Michelle Kerin and the work accomplished by Trustees on the Board during her terms.

There was much I learned from this event as well, areas in which the Board can strive to strengthen its governance and oversight of The International School.  For one, strong Boards have sound self-evaluation procedures, whereby Trustees can evaluate the Chair, the work of the Board as a whole, and even themselves as individual trustees.  We engaged in some form of evaluation last May, but we can do better to make this a more meaningful part of our year.  Second, although I am proud of the efforts we have made with regards to professional development and orientation for Trustees, there is more we can do to educate and inform Trustees, both veteran and new.  Third, we can do more when it comes to better establishing and then communicating to the community the Board's goals and objectives for each year.  Engaged parents and trustees should be able to identify without hesitation the Board's yearly goals, and although I can rattle them off without hesitation, it is more important that all of you can.

Our chief goals for this year, by the way, are to hire our next outstanding Head of School and ensure an effective leadership transition; to complete the Campus Master Plan project, thereby finalizing a plan for a campus and facilities that will help us achieve our strategic objectives; and to enhance our financial oversight and development strategies in preparation of future campus construction.  In addition to these are numerous other goals set for each of our Standing Committees.  I will write more about these goals in future articles.

A frequent comment at the Governance event was how much of the work of school boards goes on behind the scenes and how parents often do not fully understand the role and responsibilities of Trustees.  School boards deal with projects and issues that don't always result in something concrete and readily visible to the community:  long term strategic planning, policies, and financial oversight.  When boards erect a new building or hire a (or fire!) a Head of School, parents notice.  But I'm sure none of you noticed how last year the Board strengthened financial procedures giving the Head of School enhanced flexibility when it comes to important expenditures. Again, much of what boards do is almost invisible.

Boards don't decide where schools buy pizza for Pizza Monday, whether milk or juice should be served in classrooms, where the school should place ads for prospective parents, or even whether such and such teacher should be let go.  Most of the decision-making you encounter as parents are administrative decisions left to the Head of School, working with his or her admin team.  Although many issues require some level of consultation between the HOS and the Board, day-to-day and other short term policy decisions are entirely the Head of School's to make.  The Board decides to add Klingon to our language tracks and ensures the school's facility and financial capacity to do so; the HOS hires the teachers and establishes the curriculum.

More information about the Board can be found at /parent/board/.  Not only will you find our smiling faces, but there are links to Board minutes, communications, and important documents, such as the TIS Strategic Plan. And as always, the Trustees and I welcome your questions.

- Scott Kerman, TIS Board President, board@intlschool.org