In the past week, I have met with three Boards, and in every case, I have been really struck by something.
Now I am often asked what makes a CAIS school different, and I point to co-curricular and academic programs that go above and beyond provincial requirements, exceptional facilities, and always, great teachers and great students. I am pretty convincing of the benefits of an independent school education – just ask my best friends who have switched their children to KES and STS! Or my niece who begged to go to TCS! – and I am even more passionate about the benefits of a CAIS school, since accreditation is the single most powerful whole school improvement process. CAIS membership should matter for two powerful reasons: there is no other way for boards to attain objective feedback on all aspects of their school, and there is no other way for leaders to demonstrate a commitment to continuous whole school improvement. It is that hunger to get better and better – to go from good to great and never slip from great to good – that really differentiates a CAIS school from others.
I could go on and on about the transformational effect of accreditation, PD and research. (And if you are tired of hearing it from me, watch the Head of Notre Dame explain the significance of CAIS membership).
But what struck me last Friday at Balmoral Hall, last Saturday at St. John’s-Ravenscourt, and Thursday at TFS, was not the typical advantages of typical CAIS schools. What struck me was the fact that these schools – again, like all CAIS schools – have exceptional people doing exceptional work as members of the Board. Three things stand out.
First, Board members are volunteers. We all feel that we don’t have enough time, and yet here they were – at BH on a Friday afternoon, at SJR on a Saturday morning (at 8:00am no less!) and at TFS on a Thursday – working away on behalf of the school. I don’t know which of those examples is more impressive – that people gave up work time or a Saturday? Think about it – of all the competition for time – especially volunteer time! – these folks choose to make their schools better. And now really think about this – the parents on those Boards give up their parental influence at the school the moment they step on the Board. So this is really selfless work on behalf of today’s children’s children.
The second thing to strike me was this – time and again, I am blown away by the quality of the people. Here is a fact: CAIS Board members are smart and passionate people. If you heard the quality of their questions and interaction, you might go so far as to say really smart and really passionate. This is important because Boards have the responsibility for approving and monitoring an increasingly important aspect of independent school education – strategy.
The landscape of education is rapidly changing, particularly with the proliferation of online and blended learning and the increasing challenge of changing demographics. Our CAIS schools must stay focused on providing something so special that families are willing to pay for it. This is no easy task, especially when the public education system is strong. So when Boards are at their best, their meetings focus on strategy and risk. And that strategy is more and more focused on issues of affordability and the school’s unique value proposition.
So here’s the third thing. How amazing that our schools have both the luxury to have strong traditions and the ability to be nimble. They are not bound by systems that require them to respond to public pressures. They have a diversity of viewpoints, working hard to set the bar high, striving to provide each family with an education that plays to the unique strengths of each school according to their individual vision, mission, and values.
A glimpse into the boardrooms of these three schools this week was a reminder that the future of our schools is in good hands. In fact, our CAIS schools are more relevant than ever because of the strength of the Boards.