At best, these personal interventions can be a nuisance. At worst, they can be a disaster for the school if the Board goes off on a tangent based upon limited or inaccurate information.
How can good governance work to keep the Board on track and not to get drawn into these kind of issues? Obviously the simplest way is to continually remind Board members of their role in providing oversight, and not second guessing administrative procedures and actions. This is good in theory, but flies in the face of human nature. On the other hand, slavish acceptance of the view of the world put forward by the Head and the Leadership team also does a disservice to the school.
A more effective approach is to establish clearly measurable indicators for monitoring school performance. Claims that "everyone is leaving the school" can be quickly checked against enrolment, admissions and retention data. The parent who decries the school's declining academic standards can be addressed through external measures (standardized testing data, Ministry exam performance, IB/AP results, etc.). Concerns about tuition increases, salary levels, administration expenses, etc. can all be checked against local and national benchmarks. In North America, tools like the CAIS benchmarks or NAIS Stats Online, can give some comparator information but it is just as valuable to track year over year trends to show improvements or indicate areas of concern. Effective boards have "dashboards" of selected indicators that they review at least quarterly as well as tracking other larger financial and enrolment trends over time.
The goal of this kind of monitoring is for the Board to hold the administration accountable for the health of the school. Awareness of long term trends and patterns as well as statistical comparators with the marketplace protect the Board and the school from making knee-jerk reactions to changing circumstances.
In addition, a solid command of the data makes it easier for Board members to calm (or fend off) panicky parents or complaining staff. In the final analysis, the more the Board knows, the better it can do its job.
This is the governance lesson that Kevin Page, the PBO, has been trying to teach in Ottawa for the past five years.