Conducting the Perfect Board

By Joy Coates


As the founder of a charter school, the Board of Directors is the first team you will build, and in many ways, the most critical. Your board of directors will lend crucial support as you design, defend, and win your charter. Post-charter, your board takes on the work of school governance, monitoring and overseeing all aspects of the institution’s viability and organizational health. Assembling the right team ensures sustainability and allows you, as the school leader, to focus on the work you set out to do: creating an excellent school that delivers the high-quality education every child deserves.

Selecting a board is a form of art, best approached with the passionate precision of a conductor seeking the finest musicians to breathe life into an opus that exists only on paper. The most accomplished or renowned musicians may not be the best fit for the unique sound that you need them to produce. They may be too involved in other projects, and be unable to invest the work and rehearsal time necessary to ensure a melodic blend with the rest of the orchestra. They may be too set in their ways, carrying the belief that their experience in many other orchestras gives them license to drive the direction of your performance.

A musician who is accomplished in their own right – but in an entirely different genre than that of your masterpiece – may be well intentioned, but will likely find it difficult to adapt to your style. By adding this type of contributor, you run the risk of masking the very talent you were attracted to in the first place.


orchestra 1


For a conductor, the score, documented on sheet music, determines how the piece will sound. It dictates when the piece will be faster, slower, louder, and softer. With the right talent assembled, and enough time and attention devoted to rehearsal, by opening night of the performance, it often seems that the conductor doesn’t have to do much at all. To the audience, their role appears to be a straightforward matter of offering discreet cues and signals to the musicians. They have the score in front of them, and have already instilled a clear sense of what is expected.

As a school leader, you will strive to develop this same level of intuitive communication with the members of your board. Your charter is your score, the meticulous plan you have dedicated yourself to building. The deeper your mutual understanding with your board, the more seamless it will be to keep them on task as you design and win the charter, and then as you execute the goals and activities that the charter lays out.


Bearing all of this in mind, these are some key themes to remember as you start building your team:


  • Get the right people on your board.
    • A diversity of skills and perspectives will be invaluable, but only if these assets are organized and conditioned to collaborate in such a way that they complement each other in support of the vision.


  • Ensure your board understands, adopts, and can help drive work that advances the mission and vision for your school.
    • Your vision has to become the team vision, with all members of the board sharing ownership in bringing it to fruition.


  • Lead your board with clarity of vision so that you can use the wealth of talent you’ve accrued as efficiently as possible.


  • Communicate all expectations clearly and create a culture of mutual accountability to ensure that both you and your board stay on task.


Only time, patience, and knowledge – both your own, and that from those who have done this work before – ensure that you, as the conductor, assemble an orchestra that delivers the beautiful sound your intricate arrangement demands and deserves.