What makes an independent school succeed or fail when crisis strikes? More often than not, the difference hinges on whether the administration and board work collaboratively. The greater the crisis, the greater the stressors on the relationship between the two. Advance planning is critical. A crisis is no time to find out what works and what does not, much less to let one or more outspoken or undisciplined trustees hijack any commitment to transparency and accountability.
I’ve seen it again and again. In the face of crisis, an independent school’s operational leaders, such as the head of school and CFO, almost always commit to taking the moral high ground and doing the right thing, even if it’s tempting to “protect the school’s reputation” instead. The board chair and executive committee typically share this commitment as well. The problems often begin when the crisis comes to the awareness of the full board. High-stakes scenarios tend to trigger emotional reactions. One or more trustees may balk against some aspect of the crisis-response plan or recommendations. They might “know someone” who can do a better job. Or they might casually reveal highly classified information to their family or friends.
Any of these scenarios can backfire in ways that prove to be calamitous for the school. Here’s a better approach.
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