Board matters: Experienced school heads and their work with trustees

Thomas W Price, University of Pennsylvania


Scholars of the management and governance of non-profit educational and social organizations, including those focusing exclusively on independent schools, cite a strong board of trustees as an essential ingredient in the overall success of a non-profit organization. While there is significant agreement in the literature about the importance of the relationship between the paid executive and the governing board, little of it is specific to independent schools and their trustees (who are more likely to be first-time trustees) much of it is prescriptive and sometimes contradictory. The vast majority of the literature on governance falls into the “how to,” “legal duties,” and “roles and boundaries” categories. These are helpful as primers, but offer little in how boards and heads actually make this crucial relationship work. The purpose of this study is to take step in the direction of filling this gap in the research. If schools can gain more from a successful (each board defining for itself what “successful” means for that institution) staying in place for significant period of time (Wickenden, 1990; Littleford, 1999), I wanted to study experienced heads of independent schools to learn about their relationships with their governing boards to determine what, if anything, could be learned from their experiences. Data was gathered using a survey and conducting forty-three in-depth interviews with experienced heads of school, trustees, and governance consultants. The study concludes by observing that much of the literature on trusteeship focuses too much on the “how-to” and “roles and responsibilities” of governance but that governance as it is actually practiced is far more complex. By analyzing interviews with trustees, experienced school heads and presenting three detailed cased, that author highlights this complexity. In presenting three cases, the author hopes to provide examples that can be useful to independent school heads and trustees as they imagine how to best govern their schools, understanding that their own situations require tailored responses but noting that educating trustees, giving them real work, helping them develop an ethic of continual improvement through processes of self-evaluation and reflection, developing trust and helping to cement the marriage between the head of school and board chair are ingredients common to successful schools.

Subject Area

School administration

Recommended Citation

Price, Thomas W, "Board matters: Experienced school heads and their work with trustees" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3168040.