How to find a healthy balance in your charter school leadership team
Updated: Mar 7
Who makes the major decisions at your school? A successful charter school has a healthy balance of power in its leadership. It also has the right people making decisions in areas where they are qualified and experienced to lead. Who are the leaders at your school?
The Balance of Power
Typically, the leadership team consists of the school director or principal and the board of directors. The president of the board of directors plays a key role in working with the director to create a healthy balance.
Does your school show signs of a healthy balance of power? What does this look like? In a healthy balance, each member of the school leadership team understands and fulfills his or her duties effectively and collaboratively. Meetings are productive and well organized, and decisions are made with little drama. When the wrong person is making decisions, problems follow. Sometimes the executive director is very strong and the board rarely questions his or her decisions. Sometimes the board president holds the power and the director struggles to get desired changes approved. Sometimes the director functions essentially independently with little oversight. Or, there can be a power struggle within the board of directors as members act individually instead of as a unified board.
Whatever the case, the situation may change at any time as new board members are appointed or new administrators are hired. The balance of power is constantly shifting over the life of a charter school.
School Leadership Perceptions
Take a look at the questions below and think about your charter school. Answer the questions honestly for your school, and then ask a colleague or two to do the same.
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Beyond the components described in the charter, who decides what additional academic programs will be implemented?
Who decides what curriculum resources (textbooks or online) will be purchased?
Who decides what internal assessments are used?
Who analyzes assessment data and sets school improvement goals?
Who writes the strategic plan?
Who monitors and reports progress toward strategic plan goals?
Who writes policies?
Who decides which policies will be written or revised?
Who writes the employee handbook?
Who writes the student handbook?
Who approves routine expenses below policy threshold?
Who approves expenses above policy threshold?
Who balances monthly financial statements?
Who sets annual budget goals?
Who signs checks?
Hiring/terminations of administration:
Who decides the hiring procedures for a new director?
Who makes the hiring decision for other administrative positions?
Who decides when new positions are added to the organizational structure?
Who writes job descriptions?
Who determines employee salaries?
Who determines employee benefits?
Who sets fundraising goals?
Who is responsible for raising funds?
Who is responsible for finding and applying for grants?
A Healthy Balance?
Compare notes with your colleague(s). Do you each have the same perceptions of who is in charge at your school? Do you know who makes the decisions? Does it seem like you have a healthy balance of power at your charter school?
Want to learn more about how to help your school board find a better balance?
Download my FREE PDF, How to build a better board."
The first step in helping your school find a healthy balance is to recognize the power structure you have in place today. Are major decisions being made by people who are qualified to make them? Is it their job to make those decisions? If the answer is no or you are not sure, your charter school may be at risk.
You can help
You can help your charter school find a healthy balance. I highly recommend this book, Charter School Board University, by Brian Carpenter, as a starting point. If you can get all the members of your leadership team to read this book and discuss, you have a great place to start. This can be done at a work session or spread out over several board meetings. Or you may choose to have the team trained in charter school governance and leadership by an outside consultant. You may need to have Crucial Conversations with the team and develop a system for holding each other accountable for shared agreements.
Whatever you do, don’t wait! Your students and staff are counting on you.
Peggy Downs works with school leaders who want to leverage grants to dramatically increase funding, impact, and credibility for their schools. More info and a ton of free resources are waiting for you at:
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