GOVERNANCE Tomorrow’s Future Today – Principals on parade

Back in February this year, the Ministry of Education noted that 51 schools in New Zealand were under the governance of limited statutory manager (LSM) and 28 schools under commissioner appointed by the Ministry. That’s 79 out of total of 2579 schools in the country.
Some say 79 is still too high number and sign of weaknesses in the system. Others see that 2500 schools are being very ably run by their boards.
New Zealand is extraordinary for the degree of community participation that goes into its school boards. Chris France, former president of the New Zealand Schools Trustees Association (NZSTA) says, “It’s part of the New Zealand psyche. We have deep abiding love of education and of the care of our children, and we think we can do something by sitting on board.”
Since leaving NZSTA, France has consulted to schools and non-profit organisations with his company Governance Matters. “In four years of travelling and meeting boards all over New Zealand, I’m always absolutely amazed at the quality of people around the board table at nine o’clock on Wednesday night.”
Mike Hollings, acting chief review officer of the Education Review Office (ERO), says most boards meet the high standards of performance, accountability and behaviour set for them. “Of the 900 or so reviews in schools it carried out last year,” says Hollings, “ERO returned for follow-up review in about 17 percent.” Follow-up reviews result from failure by board to carry out its responsibilities. Reasons behind board failures varied, but one key ingredient for disaster was misunderstanding by the board of the nature of governance.
Good governance, according to Ian King, group CEO of Auckland Colleges Group (ACG), starts with an understanding of the difference between governance and management. Add to that “a willingness to be involved in policy-setting and avoiding interfering in day-to-day management”.
Sounds simple, but it’s an issue many boards struggle with, according to France, who last year with professor Carol Cardno researched the perceptions of approximately 1000 principals and 800 board chairs around the country. “Trustees do an amazing job,” says France. “What they miss is adequate focus and direction from the key bureaucracies to ensure what they do is govern, rather than get caught up in management.”
This confusion over roles not only undermines principals, it also overloads board members who are trying to spend their few hours per week solving problems best left in the hands of good principal.
“When I go into schools I’m finding huge policy documents that are actually operational policies about sunhats and no smoking and so on,” says France. “Those are things that really apply to what the principal does day to day.” He says the board doesn’t need to know about these things in great detail, just that they are in place and being applied. Instead, the time can be devoted to strategy and forward planning. France says board members are often visibly relieved when they discover their true role.
Rosemary Whyte, chair of the board of governors at Rangi Ruru Girls’ School in Canterbury, says good governance is planning for the future. “Often you do that in consultation with the community,” she says. “We send surveys to students and parents and work with staff and the management team to plan for the future.”
John Shewan, chair of both Pricewater-houseCoopers and Samuel Marsden Collegiate, says the most important aspect of governance is that the board has very clear forward view for the school. “Boards need to have very clear vision of where they want their school to be in five, even 10 years’ time,” he says.
Independent schools like Samuel Marsden and Rangi Ruru appoint board members, usually based on skills, while state schools have elected board members. Sally Dalzell, who until recently was second principal at state school Epsom Girls’ Grammar and now heads independent Corran School, says state schools risk losing institutional memory because of high turnover on elected boards.
“In state school the principal is the constant thread, and is constantly upskilling new board members,” says Dalzell. “In state school that whole institutional memory is quite fragile.”
Elaine Hine, training coordinator for NZSTA, agrees and says succession planning is an absolutely vital component of successful boards. “Statistics show that at the last election there was 61 percent turnover of trustees,” she says, “which is considerably high. In some instances, it’s still the employee telling the employer what their role is.”
There’s little doubt the corporate world can share some lessons, and in many cases already shares personnel with school boards. But the key difference is the voluntary nature of school boards, which are unable to attract skilled members with high pay. For now, passion will have to do.
As Angela Coe, chair of the board of governors for Diocesan School for Girls, says, if you need something done well, ask busy person.


Perfect Principals
Being principal is no more complicated than walking on water, says John Shewan, chair of the board of governors at Samuel Marsden Collegiate in Wellington.
“[Principals] need to be leaders in the curriculum area, thoroughly strong educationalists, they need strong management skills across everything from human capital to public relations to information technology to training, infrastructure, and then dealing with stakeholders ranging from old girls and old boys associations through to parents,” he says. “It’s an enormously demanding task. I take my hat off to principals; I think running school is lot harder than running an accounting firm.” (Shewan is also chair of PricewaterhouseCoopers.)
Gillian Eadie, principal at Samuel Marsden Collegiate, says most principals she knows began their careers as curriculum specialists, as she did. “I rapidly realised we had to have an understanding of financial and property management, human resources, PR and marketing, networking, development and fundraising, and also responding to the needs of our parents and the wider community,” she says. “It’s quite wide-ranging role.”
With so much to consider, Eadie’s top priority in decision-making is the simple question, “will this enhance learning for the students?”
Further south in Canterbury, Rosemary Whyte, chair of the board at Rangi Ruru Girls’ School, says relational skills are absolutely key in principal. “At their heart, schools are about people,” she says. “You can be the most perfect leader and have the most amazing ideas but if you can’t communicate your vision to the staff, to parents and to students, then the school loses its buzz and its vitality, because you’re not all moving in the same direction.”
Julie Moor, the principal at Rangi Ruru, agrees, and says of the qualities needed to make an effective principal: “[A principal needs] to be realistically optimistic, because you have to lead from the top. You have to have vision, and you have to make sure that vision is shared by your staff.”
Moor also says healthy dose of humility certainly helps. “Self-reflection is incredibly important, and [it’s important] to be an ongoing learner,” she says.
Meanwhile in Auckland, Sally Dalzell has recently taken over the principalship of Corran School. She says passion for working with young people is must – it can’t be faked. “The most important thing is that the principal can establish open relationships, relationships of trust,” she says. While financial and other business management skills are essential, Dalzell says curriculum is central. “At the start of Tomorrow’s Schools there was view that you had to be an accountant to run the school,” she says. “There’s definitely swing back to being an educational leader and knowing about the curriculum.” After all, it is the core business of school.
Also in Auckland, Ann Mildenhall, principal of Diocesan School for Girls, says sense of humour is an essential part of the principal’s toolkit

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