Your Guide to a Data-Driven Board Retreat 

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Your Guide to a Data-Driven Board Retreat 

What’s Inside 

A Quick Refresher: The BoardOnTrack Approach – The Journey to a Strategic, Sustainable Board........................................................................................................ 4

There is a data-driven, proven path to excellence in Charter School Governance..................... 4

Sustainability = Repeatable Processes............................................................................... 5

Quarterly Board Development Focus Q4 & Q1..................................................................... 6

What Is BoardMeet?..................................................................................................... 7

How Does It Work?.......................................................................................................... 7

Sample Schedule............................................................................................................. 8

Getting Ready for BoardMeet........................................................................................ 9

Can’t Attend BoardMeet?.................................................................................................. 10

Things to Consider when Planning your Board Retreat.......................................................... 10

Potential Retreat Topics.................................................................................................... 11

Other Topics................................................................................................................... 13

A Quick Refresher: The BoardOnTrack Approach – The Journey to a Strategic, Sustainable Board

We designed the BoardOnTrack Membership to help your board take concrete steps each year on the Path to Excellence. 

There is a data-driven, proven path to excellence in Charter School Governance

As a charter organization evolves from founding to sustaining it should strengthen its systems and processes across the organization. Most charter schools learn how to scale their human capital pipeline, student recruitment processes, and the tools and supports they use to close the achievement gap. But typically, the governance of the organization does not evolve at the same pace and with the same discipline as other parts of the organization. 

Your governance should evolve as your organization does, and managing this evolution to ensure your board is a game-changing asset for delivering great outcomes for kids is the crux of BoardOnTrack membership.

Annual BoardOnTrack Membership is grounded in a capability maturity model that articulates a path to excellence for the governance of your organization.

Membership is designed to help your board identify where it is on the path to excellence and take concrete, strategic steps to strengthen your governance  year-over-year.

 

Sustainability = Repeatable Processes

The BoardOnTrack Membership is structured to help you build repeatable processes. This will help you build a lasting legacy that can withstand the natural trustee attrition that happens due to term limits, etc.

Annually your board should follow our Assess, Align, Accelerate process. It's sort of like turbo tax, the first time you do it there is a lot to think through, but then each year you start over and make some minor tweaks.  The process looks like this: 

Assess Strengths and
areas to Improve

Board and CEO Get
Aligned and Prioritize

Implement Action Plans
to Achieve Goals

ü 10 Board-Level Assessments

ü 1 Individual Performance Appraisal

ü Skills and Demographic Inventory

ü Annual CEO Evaluation

ü Create clear goals

ü Structure board for success – right committees, officers and the right size team with the right skills

ü Clarify roles, responsibilities and expectations for the full board, committees, individual trustees and senior staff

ü Goals entered into dashboard

ü Track tasks and hold team accountable to deliver results

ü Shift meetings to be strategic rather than reactive

ü Harness the power of full team and committees

 

 

 

 

Quarterly Board
Development Focus                                      Q4 & Q1

  

What Is BoardMeet?

We are acutely aware of how hard it can be to pull off an effective annual board retreat. BoardMeet is our way to help you hold a fantastic, sustainable, affordable, annual board retreat that harnesses the power of the BoardOnTrack toolset, gets you some expert facilitation and guidance, and allows you to learn from your peers.

 

How Does It Work?

Team Commitment

You get the majority of your board to commit to the BoardMeet date and time in the city most convenient for you. BoardMeet will only be a good use of time if you can get at least 80% of your board and your organization’s CEO to attend. This is definitely a more the merrier (or a more the productive!) event. Your board should consider having the senior staff that support your board committees attend as wel.

Group Learning

At the beginning and end of BoardMeet, Team BoardOnTrack will facilitate some core content around setting and achieving goals and harnessing the power of the data generated through the BoardOnTrack platform.  You will be learning alongside your peer participating charter school boards during this time.

Individual Board Retreat

Then, the bulk of BoardMeet involves your board breaking out for 3-4 hours of individual board retreat time. You can use this time however you see fit. Your Member Success Coach will help you design your custom retreat agenda. (There are some ideas for you to consider later on in this guide).

Sample Schedule 

BoardMeet schedules vary by locale but the typical flow looks like this:

8:00 – 9:30

Welcome, Introductions & Initial Training

  • BoardOnTrack to kick-off
  • Intro to other participating boards, framing the day

Defining Excellence in Charter School Governance

  • Lessons learned from BoardOnTrack’s work with 500 charter schools nationwide
  • Review the key components of an exceptional charter school board and national standards for excellence in charter school governance

Data-Driven Governance

  • Mini training on how to use the BoardOnTrack generated data from the Skills & Demographic Inventory, the Board Assessments, and the CEO Evaluation

Developing Annual Board Goals

  • A primer on developing annual board goals – role of the full board, committees and the CEO
  • Building and sustaining active, engaged committees

9:30 – 12:30 

Break Into Your Custom Board Retreat

  • Work with your governance coach to design this time
  • Suggestions of activities later on in this guide

12:30 – 1:00 

Networking Lunch

  • Meet and learn from your peers

1:00 – 2:00 

Additional BoardOnTrack facilitated content

Please Note 

BoardMeet schedules vary city to city.

Please reach out to your Member Success Coach to find out the particulars for your BoardMeet locale.

Getting Ready for BoardMeet

Firm Up Logistics

  1. Confirm Your Team’s Commitment
    • Strive for at least 80% of your board members and make sure your organization’s CEO can attend.
  2. Make Sure We Know You’re Coming
    • Let your Member Success Coach know we should count you in.

Design Your Custom Retreat Agenda

  1. Connect with your Member Success Coach and they can help you design this
  2. There are tips later on in this guide

Can’t Attend BoardMeet? 

Not to worry, we can still help you complete these steps and you can hold your own individual board retreat at a time that is convenient for you. We’re standing by ready to help.

Things to Consider when Planning your Board Retreat

Whether you are joining us for BoardMeet or going it alone, here are some things to consider:

Do we even need to do this? Seems like a lot of work…

To be effective your board should carve off time to have deeper strategic conversations. If planned correctly your annual board retreat can be an activity that really propels your governance team forward.  For most charter school boards an annual retreat is essential.

Agree to Clear Outcomes

As busy volunteers nothing is more precious than your time. If you are asking your board members to give up extra time for a board retreat you need to make sure it is a highly effective use of their time. The first step to making this a reality is to get the entire team to agree on outcomes. The easiest way to do this is to complete these steps:

  • Pose the question, “If we give up 6 hours on a Saturday to hold our board retreat, what do you want to have accomplished by the time we walk out the door?”.
  • Collect the answers. You can ask the team to brainstorm a list at a board meeting, or pose the question via email and collect the responses in one central place.
  • Prioritize. It’s better to do a few things well, rather than race through a laundry list. Try to focus on things that are best done in a retreat setting (there is a list of recommended topics below).

Maintenance or Significant?

Most boards find the need to have an annual “maintenance” retreat. A list of topics you might include are described in detail on the following pages, but common maintenance retreat activities include:

  • Activities to help new trustees and legacy trustees get to know one another
  • Reflection on the board’s strengths and areas to improve
  • Discussion about strengthening the Board-CEO partnership
  • Agreement on the prioritized annual board goals for the upcoming year and the right committee structure to support achieving those goals.

In addition, every few years, boards find the need to roll up their sleeves and dive into significant topics. These could include expansion plans, purchasing a permanent home or significant changes to the organization’s mission. You should reach consensus about whether you are at a strategic crossroads as an organization, and if so how to appropriately use a board retreat to tackle key strategic issues.

Kick-Off or Culmination?

There are two modes for a board retreat.

Culmination

One approach involves substantive work in advance of the retreat (typically by the CEO, senior staff, and committees). This work is shared in advance, discussed in detail at the retreat, and often even voted on. The benefits are you leave the retreat with clear decisions having been made, and a documented path forward.

Kick-Off

Involves starting the conversations at the retreat and then tasking staff and committees to continue deeper dives on the agreed upon path post-retreat. There are plenty of situations where this approach makes sense. The potential downside to this approach is that there is a lack of follow-through and momentum post retreat.

One Long Day or Two Shorter

Traditionally retreats are day-long affairs, but increasingly we are seeing charter school boards opt for two shorter strategic sessions. So, instead of one long day of 8 hours, breaking the work into two shorter 4 hour sessions.  It seems that each year people get busier and busier, so finding a full day where 100% of the trustees are available has become increasingly challenging. In addition, this helps solve the kick-off/culmination conundrum. Two parts ensures there is follow-through and accountability.  You may consider using BoardMeet as one part of a two-part retreat approach.

Facilitated or Not?

It is always better/more productive to have a board retreat professionally facilitated. Even if you are doing a “maintenance” retreat, it is hard to both participate and facilitate.  

Who Should Attend?

You should strive for 100% board member attendance. Your board retreat should be a significant strategic session for your governance team and the more the whole team is there the more productive it will be. In addition, your CEO should play a central role in designing and implementing the retreat.  We also highly recommend that the CEO’s senior team attend some or all of the retreat. Typically, these team members will help the CEO ensure that post-retreat action steps happen. 

Potential Retreat Topics

Below are some key topics that most boards find helpful to discuss at an annual board retreat.

Merely Successful or Wildly Successful

Your charter agreement with your authorizer spells out a set of key charter promises your organization is on the hook to deliver. Deliver on these promises, you get to keep your charter. Fail to meet them, your charter could be revoked or renewed with conditions.  Each year you should make sure the full board is crystal clear about what you promised to deliver and how close you are to making good on those promises. In most cases these promises represent the floor or the baseline of what it means to be a successful organization. A retreat is a great time to define excellence for your organization. What does merely successful look like? What is your vision of wildly successful? What would it take to be wildly successful?

Path to Excellence

The BoardOnTrack assessments will give you rich data on your board’s strengths, areas to improve and will highlight where you are on the path to excellence.  You should carve off time at your retreat to discuss the results of these assessments and determine how the data will inform the board’s work in the coming year.

Annual Board Goals

A retreat is a great time to agree to a set of prioritized board goals for the year. These goals should spell out how the board will add value to the organization. Ideally your CEO will weigh in and help craft these goals. Your CEO should articulate the most important things the board could be doing in the year ahead to advance the organization.

Board Structure

A retreat is a great time to revisit your committee structure, officers, board size and composition. Form should follow function, so this discussion should be informed by your board goals. Committees should be structured to help the board accomplish their top priorities. Completing an annual CEO Evaluation can also be a useful tool for thinking through board structure. If you used the BoardOnTrack CEO Evaluation tool you should refer back to areas where the board felt like it didn’t have enough visibility to accurately answer the questions. Structure the board for the year ahead to ensure you get the visibility you need.

Board Culture

A hallmark of a successful charter school is a strong, measurable school culture. There is an intentionality in all aspects of the school to reinforce this culture. But often the board culture does not get the same kind of attention. Your board should spend some time talking about what your culture is and what you’d like it to be. Tap your CEO who is probably an expert at articulating, creating and maintaining organizational culture.

Individual Trustee Performance Expectations

Too often boards have “worker bees” and “non-worker bees”. A charter public school board needs to be a hands-on working board, with the entire team pulling their weight. A retreat is a great time to clarify individual performance expectations and to discuss how you are going to hold each other accountable to the same expectations and what the consequences should be for those who can’t meet the agreed upon expectations.  The new BoardOnTrack Engagement Score feature should help make this easier to monitor and report out on.

Board-CEO Partnership

Much of effective governance hinges on a strong Board-CEO partnership. A retreat is a great time to talk about what’s working and not working with your partnership and to agree to concrete steps to improve your working relationship.

Succession Planning

Succession planning for board officers, board members and your CEO is probably on everyone’s mind but no one knows how to bring it up or discuss it. A retreat setting is an ideal place to take this topic on.

Board Recruitment Needs

Once your trustees complete the skills and demographic inventory in BoardOnTrack and a staffer inputs trustee term limits, the system will generate a 3-year board recruitment roadmap. Discuss this report during your board retreat. Identify your gaps and develop concrete goals to fill them.

Strategic Calendar

A retreat is a great time to share out a draft calendar for the coming year. Try to map out all the board meetings, committee meetings and other essential dates. The more all trustees get a clear view of the workload and the specific dates, the more likely they will be to meet agreed upon timelines and expectations.

Other Topics

Often boards add in other training or board education to their retreat day. These items could include:

  • Having a key staffer come in and talk about an aspect of the organization such as the special education program
  • A representative from your state association providing an update about the legislative agenda
  • Your legal counsel providing Open Meeting Law training 

This type of board education can be useful and might help break up a long day, but we caution you to focus on substantive conversations that can only happen productively in a retreat setting. Training and board education can happen virtually or easily tacked on to a board meeting.