Interview with Dr. James Goenner: Leading the Way
How to effectively manage the relationships among board members and the CEO in the charter school environment.
“To be great, you have to want to be great,” says Dr. James Goenner, president and CEO of the National Charter Schools Institute, “and the biggest barrier to being great is being good.” Goenner works with CEOs and boards to help them get a better grasp on their respective roles and relationships. During his Summit session, Goenner will show participants how to break out of their comfort zones by focusing on how to help board members aspire to greatness, demonstrate their talent and capabilities, and serve as valuable ambassadors for the charter school movement.
Goenner points out that at most charter schools, the board of directors “governs” and the CEO “manages.” These two roles may make sense in theory, but in reality they can create conflicts between these two critical entities. “Confusion can arise over what falls into the purview of governing versus managing,” says Goenner.
“It’s fundamental to the success of the school, the board, and the CEO for all three to be aligned on what is being executed for the school’s students,” says Goenner. “Without this alignment, the situation can fall into disarray pretty quickly.” A board that micro-manages the school’s leadership, for example, simply will not function properly.
The situation becomes even more challenging when the CEO is also the school’s founder. “When you are the founder of a company you get to make the decisions and the buck stops at you,” Goenner points out, noting that the scenario plays out differently in the public area, where other stakeholders are involved and have a “say” in most matters. “The founder wants to get things done and winds up running into conflicts with the board.”
To avoid these and other relationship management issues, Goenner says charter schools must develop missions, visions, and values that are aligned across all three entities (the board, school leadership, and CEO). A shared set of values, for example, helps establish a mutual trust and clear expectations of all stakeholders. “This puts the board in a strong position to be able to govern,” says Goenner, “and the CEO in the position to effectively lead the day-to-day school activities.”