Is Your Board Turning into a House of Cards?

By Joan Feiereisen, Director of Governance & Board Leadership

If scheming politico Frank Underwood in Netflix’s hit show is the role model of one of your board members, you have a major problem.

Is your board turning into a House of Cards?

Most boards, including those we work with through our PAVE Partner School Program, are composed of competent, dedicated individuals who are genuinely passionate about improving the organizations they serve. Board members may ask tough questions, hold the CEO to high standards and require a high degree of accountability, but they should be doing these things if they are doing their jobs well.

However, there are times when a confluence of weak board leadership coupled with a crisis or challenging situation can produce the rogue board member, someone bent on exerting power and influence who can completely derail a board’s work and thus its effectiveness. This is NOT simply the case of a board member who asks challenging questions or makes others uncomfortable by probing deeper into difficult subjects. Much like Kevin Spacey’s character on House of Cards, who plots to manipulate and scheme his way to the Presidency, this kind of board member has a different agenda, often becoming destructive as he or she seeks to build a power base, undermine the principal, and take over the running of the school.

Look for these signs of trouble:

  • One board member’s name dominates the minutes – and the conversation – at every board meeting
  • A board member begins showing up at school on an almost daily basis, usually unannounced
  • Factions begin to develop on the board, with members aligning for and against the rogue member
  • The Board Chair loses control of board meetings, with the rogue member often taking over
  • Some board members resign in frustration
  • The Executive Committee begins to meet more often – and makes more and more of the decisions outside of the normal meeting times in an effort to avoid conflict, and the problematic board member

If one or more of these indicators is present, don’t wait – take action. The Governance Committee should get involved immediately by meeting with the difficult board member to discuss his or her actions, reviewing the role of the board and reminding him or her that deviating from that role will not be tolerated. If the problematic behavior continues, after a final warning is issued, the board member’s resignation should be called for. If the member resists leaving, don’t hesitate to remove the person from the board. Strong action is necessary in these cases to avoid complete disintegration of a board’s effectiveness.

3 Tips to Re-energize Your Board Service in 2015

By Marcela Garcia, Assoc. Director of Governance & Board Leadership

Re-energize your board service

It’s a new year—and with this comes realigning the energy we have to invest in ourselves and others. This includes our New Year resolutions to go back to the gym, spend more quality time with our loved ones, as well as to be more intentional with the use of our “free” time. As individuals who value service and community, it is of the utmost importance that we invest some time in service that is meaningful and rewarding. But let’s keep it real—this can be a challenge. Especially if you are new to board service, you might not know what to expect or how you will be connected. And even if you are seasoned, becoming jaded with the challenges of board service does happen.

So, as I put together on-boarding guides and manuals, and talk to Partner School board members, Board Corps members, and those contemplating board service, I reflect on the lessons that I have learned as we launch the third year of the Board Corps program.

Board Corps members who have already served at least a year were asked to share advice with other program participants during a pinning ceremony that we hosted to celebrate the milestone of having placed more than 50 Board Corps members on our Partner School boards. The advice they shared was very practical and can be categorized into three important areas.

Don’t stop learning

  • Make the time to attend the ongoing education opportunities – PAVE’s training are first class and will benefit both you and the school.
  • Be prepared to listen and learn, but don’t be afraid to participate. You have a lot to offer so don’t hold back.
  • Do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and take a risk.

Find ways to connect your intellect and heart to the mission of the school 

  • Patience and empathy will go a long way when working through conflicting ideas.
  • Make sure you believe in the culture and mission of the school. Visit during the school day, get to know the teachers and students.
  • Go into the process with an open mind and open heart.

Be patient

  • It takes time; schools can’t be turned around overnight.
  • Be open to taking on new and different challenges that take you outside your comfort zone and allow you to grow!
  • You’ll always get more out of it then you put in.

As we get re-energized, and find ways to make our work significant, it is important that we connect our intellect and heart to the work we do. How are you making this happen in 2015?​

People Change Culture, Positive Culture Inspires

By Ben Hannemann, Director of Mission Advancement

The seemingly intractable challenges to providing quality education to poor minority children in urban America are well documented. Pockets of positive results prove it is possible and are rightfully celebrated and encouraged. Yet, proposed solutions to bring these outcomes to greater scale are often contentious, with unintended consequences and outcomes rarely achieved to the extent desired. As we enter the New Year, Wisconsin media sources of all types, and political echo chambers of every stripe, are once again reverberating with calls for action to improve education, especially urban K-12 education in Milwaukee.

This ongoing call for action is critically important, and from 50,000 feet it makes logical sense that much of the policy debate focuses to issues of accountability and structure, and the underlying flow of power and money. Yet beyond these important framing issues, it’s easy to lose site of the most important question: How do we best reach ever-growing numbers of our poor, urban children with what IS possible — a life transforming, high-quality K-12 education?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary analyzed the Big Data collected from their website and app, and identified “Culture” as the top word of 2014, based on a 15% year-over-year increase in look-ups for this term. Perhaps the wisdom of the crowd is on to something about how to create sustained positive educational change.

PAVE and School Culture

Culture:
: the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time
: a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc.
: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)

Each of these definitions of culture suggests people are striving to better understand the many shades of gray present in our multi-cultural, 21st century society. But it is the third definition that captures my interest and, I would argue, speaks to a deeper truth about reaching ever-growing numbers of Milwaukee’s urban youth with high-quality education.

Fueling a positive school culture that engages students, staff, parents and guardians, and the broader community is essential to providing hope for families growing up in seemingly hopeless situations. Positive school culture can inspire work ethic in populations that suffer from some of the highest jobless rates in the nation and encourage sustained year-over-year effort in students striving to achieve goals that no one in their family may have ever achieved.

Successful urban Milwaukee schools, whether choice, charter, or public, find ways to reach their students through positive cultures of performance, safety, and hope; driven by a clear sense of mission and a vision for the school and the students, families, and communities they serve. Amid the policy debates and politics, it is essential that we don’t lose sight of the fact that education is a people-driven effort and the oft-quoted African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” does apply. Everyone has a role to play in championing student learning and supporting the educators who provide it. Together, people change culture, and people create positive change in the lives of Milwaukee’s children.

Take a minute to read this article from 2013 (although it’s a few years old, the content is still relevant) from The University of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center about How to Create a Positive School Climate. It offers research-based suggestions for school leaders on how to start cultivating a positive school climate.

What have you experienced working in your school? How have you as a board member, administrator, or teacher, worked to fuel positive school culture?

New Year, More Work to Be Done

By Michelle Burmeister, Communications Director

Every January we look forward to sharing PAVE’s Annual Report. It’s an important time for us to reflect back on what has been accomplished the year before, and is a solid reminder of all the work that still needs to be done.

Like reports of the past, this year PAVE will highlight three Partner Schools who are making a difference in their communities and empowering students to aim higher and defy odds. We’re also excited to provide an update on the success of Board Corps, as well as share more information with you about other services and resources that PAVE provides.

The last few months of planning and writing our annual report have been a great time for me as the Communications Director to encourage the PAVE team to acknowledge and articulate the breadth and depth of work we’re doing with 57 Partner Schools. Much of this work includes time with our schools and their boards lending expertise in areas such as facilitating strategic planning sessions, assisting in the development of marketing plans, coaching on fundraising and development, and even providing graphic design support. You’ll find out about those activities and many other ways PAVE supports Milwaukee’s high-potential schools in our 2014 Annual Report.

This year we’ve put together a printed annual report booklet, but take the stories and information to a deeper level via a new online platform that we can’t wait to share. It’ll all be ready in a few weeks and we’ll share the link with you soon. In the meantime, I encourage you to glance at our Annual Reports from the past. They include videos of some of our Partner Schools in action, like this 2013 video of Milwaukee Collegiate Academy:

So, Happy New Year and what projects are you looking forward to diving into in 2015?