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?​

55 Milwaukee Schools Have This In Common

By Michelle Burmeister, Communications Director

They’re 2014 – 2015 PAVE Partner Schools!

55 PAVE Partner Schools

PAVE will be working with 38 Partner School networks, consisting of 55 schools, during the 2014 – 2015 school year. We’re proud to call these schools Partners and support quality education for close to 24,000 Milwaukee students.

  • Atonement Lutheran School
  • Bruce-Guadalupe Community School
  • Business and Economics Academy of Milwaukee, Inc. (BEAM)
  • Capitol West Academy
  • Central City Cyberschool of Milwaukee
  • Dominican High School
  • Eastbrook Academy
  • Highland Community School
  • Hillel Academy
  • Hmong American Peace Academy
  • HOPE Christian Schools (Prima, Fortis, Hope Christian High School)
  • King’s Academy
  • La Causa
  • LUMIN (Concordia University School and Pilgrim Campus, Northwest, Sherman Park, St. Martini)
  • Lutheran Special School
  • Malaika Early Learning Center
  • Messmer Catholic Schools (High School, Preparatory, St. Rose, St. Leo)
  • Milwaukee Academy of Science
  • Milwaukee College Prep (36th Street, 38th Street, Lloyd Street)
  • Milwaukee Collegiate Academy
  • Milwaukee Environmental Sciences
  • Mount Lebanon Lutheran School
  • Nativity Jesuit Middle School
  • Northwest Catholic
  • Notre Dame Middle School
  • Pius XI High School
  • Risen Savior Lutheran School
  • Seeds of Health (Veritas High School, Windlake Academy, Windlake Elementary, Grandview High School, MC2 High School, Tenor High School)
  • St. Anthony School of Milwaukee
  • St. Coletta Day School of Milwaukee
  • St. Joan Antida High School
  • St. Marcus Lutheran School
  • St. Thomas More High School
  • St. Vincent Pallotti Catholic School
  • Tamarack Waldorf School
  • Urban Day School
  • Wisconsin Lutheran High School
  • Woodlands School (Bluemound Road and Woodlands East)

These schools have completed PAVE’s assessment process and we carefully and thoroughly look at the current state of the school, as well as its long-term potential. More on that process here in Dave Steele’s blog post How Good Is My School?

Each school has unique successes and challenges and our work with them over the next two years will be varied and vast. Our wheelhouse of expertise lies in a few different areas, not including curriculum development or teacher coaching – we leave those things up to the various other highly capable school support organizations in Milwaukee. PAVE has expertise in supporting the organizational / business side of things at a school. This includes:

  1. Advisory Services (provided by PAVE staff – board development, fund development, communication, search committee participation)
  2. Outside Consultant Services (connected by PAVE and 90% funded)
  3. Board Corps – recruiting, training, and connecting professionals to serve on the boards of our Partner Schools
  4. Community Connections (i.e. First Stage and/or Milwaukee Art Museum)
  5. Providing funding for school growth, improvement, and innovative programming

(Visit for more details on each of these areas.)

Some of our schools need PAVE’s support in all of these areas and others in perhaps just one or two. We connect with schools wherever they are on their journey to becoming, sustaining, or surpassing “great.”

With which PAVE Partner School(s) are you familiar? Share in the comments and tell us what’s great about your school!

Welcome to The PAVE Blog

By Dan McKinley, President & CEO

Summer is a great time to begin reading a new book—perhaps a mystery you have set aside for a vacation day…leaving the nuts and bolts of work behind and letting your imagination take you to interesting new places.

In this spirit I invite you to read the new PAVE Blog. Here you will find important and interesting topics, explored by people who are both knowledgeable about education reform nationally and in close touch with people who are really making a difference in the lives of families and children in Milwaukee’s schools. Welcome to The PAVE Blog What makes the PAVE Blog distinctive? It’s what you will not find here: the usual clichés about the same old problems with education. What you will find: insights into what is working in schools that are achieving success through innovation and hard work. Stories of people who aspire to change the way things are, who know that inspiration, and persistent and organized work can bring out the best in everyone involved in a school community.

PAVE’s particular focus is on recruiting, training and organizing people who have the authority and responsibility to make decisions about how a school is organized and who are accountable for its performance. In a word, we are involved in good governance. “Governance” is a word that describes something that is all around us, but is so abstract it’s practically invisible. Go into a school and you will see teachers teaching and students hopefully learning; you may see the Principal who hires the teachers, but you will not see the independent board of volunteer directors who together decide on the priorities for the school, hire the principal and evaluate his/her performance annually, make sure the budget is well managed, and support the school’s progress.

The school’s board—it is the alpha and omega of systemic change –but do we really know what distinguishes exceptionally effective boards from a board that uses “Robert’s Rules of Order,” but doesn’t hold itself accountable for performance? We need to celebrate the work of boards that are living up to their potential to transform the lives of children who live in pervasive poverty—because in Milwaukee the way things are for children must change. The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently published an authoritative study in which “Wisconsin is ranked the worst state in the country when it comes to racial disparities for children… from educational access to socioeconomic status and home life.”

We at PAVE know some great stories and evidence of what good governance is all about. We will use this blog space to talk about what is happening that is truly important and interesting.

Above all, we want to hear from you, because your questions or observations will open up new issues to explore. Please join us.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility – Advice for Board Chairs

By Joan Feiereisen, Director of Governance & Board Leadership

Board Chair Advice

Simmons Lettre’s recent blog post “Thoughts from an Outgoing Board Chair” on the Charter Board Partners’ website reminded me of one of our most engaging workshop sessions this past year. A panel of three of the most successful and experienced school board chairs in Milwaukee, Jose Olivieri of Bruce Guadalupe Community School, Peter Bruce from Urban Day School, and Mary Diez of Carmen High School, shared their collective wisdom with board members and heads of schools. They echoed many of Simmons’ musings and added a few others. A sampling:

  • You’re not just one of the gang anymore – When you are a “regular” board member, you can sometimes coast at board meetings, surreptitiously check your email, come (a bit) unprepared, perhaps not read every report. But as the chair, you have to be totally on top of your game, ready to lead discussion, engage other members, ask probing questions. You simply can’t flip the “off” switch.
  • Don’t let your Executive Committee get out of hand – As Chair, you will head up this important committee. It is a critical group for being able to come together quickly in a crisis, but don’t let it become a “board within a board.” Members not on the Executive Committee will wonder what they are there for if this group becomes too powerful.
  • Be sure to have a capable #2 in place – As Spider Man learned, with great power comes great responsibility. Being Board Chair can be a lonely job and it’s important to have a strong Vice Chair or Chair Elect to work with. Not only will you have another mind working to problem solve and trouble shoot, you are also providing on-the-job training for the person who will inherit your position.
  • Take time to celebrate – Board work is hard and celebrating success provides encouragement for taking on bigger challenges in the future. Too often, accomplishments are lost in the midst of financial statements and bylaw revisions. So don’t forget to break out the bubbly, cue the noisemakers, and let them eat cake!

Make sure to read Simmons’ blog post too and then comment below and share your insight about being a board chair (or, being on a board with a great chair).

Governance As Interesting?

By Michelle Burmeister, Communications Director

I started working for PAVE nearly two years ago, when the organization was gearing up to launch Board Corps. Interviewing for a marketing and public relations position, I was prepared to answer some of the typical questions about how to get media exposure for the organization and what are my ideas for using social platforms, etc. But, the main focus of the interview was “How will you make ‘governance’ interesting?” This has been my guiding mantra ever since.

I was not extremely well-versed in “governance” when I started at PAVE and I vaguely understood it’s importance based on my interview, but now, nearly two years later, I’m truly a believer in governance done well, because I’ve seen how an effective and dedicated board of directors can transform a school’s leadership and create positive and sustainable change.

PAVE Milwaukee Governance and Leadership

Have I accomplished the goal of making governance interesting? We’ve seen a great response to our recruitment efforts for Board Corps, so we’re clearly on the right path to explaining the important roles that governance and leadership have in improving and sustaining high-potential schools. But, I’m continuously working on it, along with the rest of my team. Part of the challenge is using language that is universally relate-able and doesn’t have skewed connotations (i.e. government). Equating governance with leadership, vision and oversight, as opposed to power, dictating and laws, helps to change the conversation about what a non-profit or school board of directors should be doing to champion the mission and achieve the vision of the organization.

Explaining what governance actually is, and showing through examples that it’s interesting and important, is an ongoing process of educating Milwaukee’s professional community and schools. It’s a goal that PAVE needs to continue focusing on in order to achieve our mission of making excellent educational opportunities possible for Milwaukee families. Stay tuned for many more posts about governance on The PAVE Blog…

What is your understanding of governance in a volunteer board setting? How have your professional experiences shaped your understanding of board leadership?