However, for most of those schools, there was no concrete evidence in the least that they were effectively preparing their students for university. They may very well have been doing so, but actually had no verifiable proof that this was the case. They had reams of admissions information (“90% of our grads get into the university of their choice” etc.) but little or no performance data once they were there. If fact one similar school in another part of the country once confided in me that when they actually tracked their graduates, over one-third of them either dropped out or changed their academic major after their first year of university. As a “university preparatory” school, they were clearly falling short!
You may see this as a shortcoming of the school's administration and leadership, but in practical terms what it is, is a failure of governance.
More than any other single function, the role of the Board is to be the guardian of the Mission of the school. Discussion should take place at every meeting to explicitly address issues pertaining to the fundamental values of the school. It should be the on-going task of the Board to review the Mission, Vision, and Strategic Objectives of the school each year, and to set goals annually in order to close strategic gaps where they exist.
Sometimes mission statements miss the boat. They fill themselves with high-sounding phrases such as: “to provide a safe and supportive learning environment” or “to educate the whole child” or “to foster interdependence and the self-esteem of learners”. These are great sentiments and admirable approaches to learning but they are not ends in themselves. It is the responsibility of the Board to concern itself with measurable ends.
Using the above example, the individual Boards of these schools, if they believe that a prime facet of their mission is to prepare students for university, should be holding the Head and leadership team to account with respect to providing data that demonstrate that the school is achieving this goal. This is good governance.
A number of years ago, I was leading the strategic planning process for a very successful girls’ school. At one point, the Head commented that she had been approached by the Head of the neighbouring boys’ school to see if he could enroll some of his senior students in her AP Physics and Economics classes. His school was an IB school and some of his U.S. bound students needed the credits for advanced admissions. The Head commented that she saw this as a great opportunity to both demonstrate the quality of the school’s programme, and the advantage of offering AP credits over IB.
There was general agreement until one lone Board member spoke up and said: “Aren’t we a girls’ school? Doesn’t our mission say that we believe in single gender education for girls? Wouldn’t we be going against our beliefs to admit boys, even for a single course?” The issue immediately became dead in the water. The Head thanked the Board member for reminding her, and her leadership team (and the rest of the Board, although she was too polite to point it out), about the need to be consistent with the mission of the school. It was a great moment for governance.