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  • Writer's pictureMike Vachow

All Summer Long

Updated: Jun 22, 2022

Summer has arrived on independent school campuses. Summer Camp is underway, and the facilities folks are sweeping into project mode. The final Board meeting and celebrations are done, and the head of school has drawn her first deep breath. If she's really on her game, she's even left town for a week under "witness protection" communication protocols.

Back on campus in the second half of June, the head should have operational projects awaiting, the kind of work that takes advantage of the larger chunks of time the summer affords the administrative team to work strategically on the year(s) ahead.

Board projects, on the other hand, should not occupy leadership bandwidth during the summer, and heads are wise to gently counsel board leaders away from optimistic ad hoc summer projects and aggressively assist the Trustees (Nominating) Committee in establishing a year-long pace of work that insures that committee lists are fully formed and meeting schedules roughed out for the next year before the current school year has come to a close.

Why? Because trustees need a break, too. Because they're juggling vacations into their work schedules, taking their kids on college trips, organizing the neighborhood block party, getting to the ballpark, all while still doing their 12-month day jobs and contending with the fact that their children are out of school. The upshot is that they are more likely to be unavailable during the summer than at any other time of the year.

Why? Because the effect of delaying the formation of practical details--committee composition, meeting schedules--is not linear but logarithmic. That is, if the composition of the Buildings and Grounds Committee is not resolved until late August, the result of spastic phone calls throughout the summer from various leaders to current and past parents who "do construction stuff" and ultimately comes down to who's around to answer on the other end, then that committee is not set back two months in terms of its planning but is set back an institutional year or more. And, in my experience, an independent school institutional year is an inverted dog year. Your school is celebrating its 50th anniversary? Congratulations on moving on to Second Grade.

Why? Because summer Board projects completed by skeleton crews run the risk of generating enervating political kerfuffles because of the difficulty of assembling all stakeholders. The assiduous ad hoc committee that labors through the summer often finds itself shot at the Achilles heel by the truest arrow in the transparency quiver: the rightfully indignant, excluded key constituency.

What can you do over the summer? Boards are wise to form a Summer Task Force from within the Finance Committee. The selection of this group should be heavily practical: Finance Committee Chair and two or three other current members who have demonstrated commitment and are available over the summer. This group provides the Head with critical counsel in the event of emergent budget concerns: stretching on financial aid, facilities surprises, etc. The summer also provides a great opportunity for the Head and Board Chair to finalize the Head's evaluation--which should be completed before the end of June--to form the Head's goals for the coming year, and to conduct broad, generative conversations about the Board/Head work for the year to come.

You should set your sights on pickin' up good vibrations this summer. I mean, wouldn't it be nice. . . . let's just go away for a while. . . .

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