As a school trustee I am only a volunteer, therefore no individual effectiveness is required. YEAH RIGHT!

As parents, one of the most significant contributions we can make for our children’s positive futures is to ensure the best possible education. If in deed this contribution is so important are we prepared to allow those who see themselves as “merely volunteers” leading our educational institutions? I think not.

This is not in any way meant to denigrate volunteer work. There are many wonderful examples of the selfless service that thousands of New Zealanders toil away at day after day in the name of volunteer work. But education?

As trustees, to be a credible force in the education sector we must ensure our own professionalism and credibility by not viewing ourselves as volunteers. As boards we need to consider:

  • What sorts of people make good trustees?
  • Is there a particular set of skills that we are after?
  • Can anyone be an effective school trustee?

Many articles portray good trusteeship as relying on honest, ethical people who are focused on accountability but is this ignoring the fact that we need to look for ways of doing things right rather than perhaps an over emphasis on not doing things wrong? There is a balance here that each board must ensure it has in place. Many articles quote John Carver with his “Boards are incompetent groups of competent people!” line.

So how do we get the right people around the board table, ensure that they focus on doing the right things and encourage them to stay there?

Our recruitment process needs to be fine tuned or as I suspect is the case on many boards, developed. Are we happy to accept anyone or are we going to be strategic and identify the missing skill gaps and seek them out? Cooption of trustees, has, over the years, enabled boards to achieve this but has at times been used for less strategic reasons.

Ponder this:

"The election of trustees is a democratic process therefore the board should not go looking for recruits"

Are we really surprised when we do not get the “right” people on the board? In the past this may have been achieved through good luck rather than good management but can we really leave this up to chance?

"We should consider having as many people round the board table as possible to ensure effective decision making"

Are more heads necessarily better? I don’t think so. As with the more meetings you have a year not being an indicator of effectiveness, so is the above myth no guarantee you will get any strategic brains around the table at all! I would prefer we have the best strategic brains available whether they number 3, 4 or 5 rather than simply fill a quota because we can. I don’t care whether they are parents, friends, grandparents, business leaders or whanau. Our kids deserve the best.

Recent changes to Section 66 of the Education Act 1989 now make our options even wider. The major change is that a Board can now delegate its powers/functions to committees consisting of non-trustees. Committees must have a minimum number of 2 persons, at least one of whom must be a trustee. Whilst we do not advocate the overuse of standing committees it may be very useful to have in place a delegation to, for instance, an audit committee, which may have non trustee experts on it from time to time.

The Education Act allows us to do this but we are at times stuck too much in a representative model of governance.

Blue sky think for a moment about what the possibilities could be. Imagine combining both? Rather than moaning that we cannot get high caliber trustees to stand we need to ask ourselves who have we contacted that meets our required skill set? Have we asked the question at our local Rotary, Lions, Business or Grey Power meeting? Let’s rock ourselves out of our complacency and be proactive!