This fall has been busy but quite glorious at Gordon. And when I reflect back on some of the events that have brought our community together so successfully—the GCA Fall Picnic, the Beyond COP21 Symposium, Spirit Day, the Open Houses—I sit in gratitude for the volunteers that give their time to serve this school. Gordon wouldn’t be Gordon without you.
Gordon's Board of Trustees is one of the groups of essential volunteers who give of their time, talent and resources to serve this community. Many of us have knowledge of or have different experiences with board work. There are corporate and not-for-profit boards, and public school boards. We’ve heard of working boards, fundraising boards and advisory boards. Independent school boards are a unique flavor of not-for-profit boards, and, after fielding a few questions from families who are new to independent schools, I thought it would be helpful to review how the Board of Trustees operates at Gordon School.
What is the role of the Board of Trustees?
The Board of Trustees at Gordon serves three main capacities. First, they are ambassadors of the school. They are expected to embody and convey Gordon’s mission in their interactions in the community and be the chief advocates for school. Second, trustees are fiduciaries, meaning that they are responsible for stewarding the school’s resources: our people, our facilities, and our financial assets. Last, Gordon trustees are strategists, responsible for determining the future direction of the school in partnership with the Head of School.
Since the Head of School reports directly to the Board, this body is also focused on providing comprehensive support to the Head. This responsibility includes the full trajectory of a head's tenure, from initial hire and transition to annual evaluation and professional development, and ultimately through the end of the Head's contract.
We all may be familiar with stories of dysfunctional boards. The most common way that independent school boards move into unhealthy practice is when their work moves into the day-to-day operations. Decisions about curriculum, staffing or discipline, for example, fall outside the purview of the board.
One characteristic of independent school boards is that parents usually make up much of the membership. This can be beneficial in that current families are among the school’s strongest advocates, and having trustees who know the members of the community personally, whether it be children, faculty or other parents, brings a level of empathy and connection to decision making that is helpful in the boardroom, especially when hard decisions need to be made. The downside of this, though, manifests when a trustee cannot take off their parent hat and can only view policy or strategic decisions through the lens of their child’s or their family’s experience. The Board Chair is responsible for keeping trustees focused on their strategic work and for ensuring that the Board entrusts the daily management of the school to the Head of School and the Leadership Team.
How does someone get on the Board of Trustees?
At Gordon, new trustees are nominated annually by the Trusteeship Committee, an active standing committee that meets regularly and reviews the make-up of the Board, paying attention to needs around the table and the strategic work ahead. For example, legal expertise is important to have in the boardroom, so the Trusteeship Committee may look to replace a lawyer rolling off the Board with another lawyer in our community. The committee also looks to ensure that there is a diversity of identities, experiences, and expertise on the Board. As we build our slate for next year, Gordon has set a goal of increasing the number of non-parent trustees on the Board.
The Trusteeship Committee sources names for nomination in a variety of ways. The Head of School is a member of the committee, and recommendations by the Head of School receive serious consideration. Communication between the Head of School, the rest of the committee, and the members of the other board committees are ongoing throughout the school year. The GCA and Gordon faculty and staff who work alongside volunteers in our community are also helpful in sourcing potential names for the Board or Board committees.
What is the make-up of the current Board?
There are twenty-four trustees, including five alumni and eighteen parents with children at Gordon, representing all three divisions of the school. There are three seats reserved on the Board for the Head of School, a GCA appointee, and a faculty member elected by their colleagues. This year's faculty trustee will be elected later this month, but the complete Board is typically in place by the start of the school year.
The Board meets monthly, and the three Assistant Heads, the Director of Philanthropic Engagement and the Executive Assistant to the Head of School join all meetings as invited staff.
What are the standing committees of the Board? How are non-trustees selected to join a Board committee?
The Trusteeship Committee is just one of eleven standing committees of the Board. The full list is in a sidebar on this page.
The committees are made up primarily of current parents and Gordon staff and are led by a trustee chair and an administrative liaison from the Gordon Leadership Team. Board committees can also include Gordon faculty, alumni and parents of graduates.
After the board sets its strategic priorities, committees take on the legwork of researching and shaping the school's options. The committee's work returns to the full Board in the form of recommendations, which are then discussed and evaluated to determine next steps.
This committee structure allows the Board to draw on the energy and expertise of dozens of other people, and it allows the larger adult community to participate directly in the growth of the school. Administrative liaisons often lead the selection of Board committee members, partnering with the Co-chairs of the committee to identify individuals in our community who have the relevant expertise and the interest in serving Gordon School in a deeper way. Sometimes, parents have taken the initiative to let us know they are interested in serving on a Board committee, and the school always welcomes these conversations.
Parents, caregivers, grandfriends and alumni who are interested in joining a committee should contact Veronica Jutras, Assistant Head of School for Institutional Advancement and Community Engagement, at email@example.com, or Alexandra O’Connor, Director of Philanthropic Engagement, at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can help identify a committee that matches their interests with the school's needs.
Do you have to have a lot of money to be on the Gordon’s Board?
The simple answer is no. Gordon trustees are expected to give to the Gordon Fund, and it is expected to be one of their top philanthropic priorities, regardless of the amount they give. 100% trustee participation in the Gordon Fund is an important indicator to other donors of the Board’s belief in the mission of the school. But, there is no expectation that our trustees give or help raise a minimum dollar amount.
How are the Board’s goals for the school year determined? What are the goals for the Board for the 2022-23 school year?
The Board's annual goals are designed from the following:
- Gordon’s Strategic Vision
- Head of School’s goals for the year and other operational initiatives that require strong Board support
- Board retreat conversations
- Board and committee conversations from last year
- The recommendations made during the accreditation process that all members of the Association of Independent Schools of New England undergo every ten years.
The current board goals will be formally approved at this month’s meeting and will be shared in the parent portal, www.gordonschool.org/parentlogin, shortly afterwards.
Thank you for reading, and taking the time to understand more about this crucial, but low-profile, group of volunteers.
If you have further questions, please reach out!
Damian Ewens ‘90
Eugene Johnson ‘87, Vice Chair
Noni Thomas López, Head of School
Betsy Stubblefield Loucks
Isaiah Osofisan ‘00
Amanda Riegel, Board Chair
Besenia Rodriguez, Vice Chair
Jen Sherer, Vice Chair
Karan Takhar ‘05
Amelie Tartaglione, GCA representative
Ted Trafton ‘94
Joshua Wynn, Secretary
Sean Zierak, Treasurer
Buildings and Grounds Committee
Diversity and Education Committee
Family Engagement Committee
Gordon Giving Committee
Head's Evaluation Committee
Marketing and Enrollment Committee