USE YOUR CHAIN OF COMMAND
As described throughout this field guide, there is a very clear division of responsibilities among your school’s board and its management. This applies to communications, as well. Your board is responsible, with the help of management, for communicating about its policies, plans and decisions. Management, in turn, is responsible for communicating about day-to-day needs and concerns. Both partners can leverage and support one another in these communication efforts for the ultimate benefit of the school.
However, there will be times when the media, a parent, or some other constituent will attempt to skirt this chain of command and catch you off guard. You may get a call at home, for instance, from a parent who is upset about a grade his or her child received that day, or about a disciplinary incident that has occurred. Or, you may get a call from a reporter about an alleged incident at the school. How do you respond?
Your first and best course of action is always to reflect back on your chain of command. It is incumbent upon you as a board member to respect the CEO’s authority to deal with daily situations and administrative decisions that arise at the school. No matter what your response, you need to ensure that you act as facilitator of continued dialogue, rather than simply stepping in and making assumptions about what may or may not have happened.
In time, you will learn how to work with this chain of command and build a mutually beneficial system of communication between the board and the CEO and, ultimately, with the students and families being served.
Many unpleasant scenarios can be mitigated or avoided altogether simply by adopting a culture of transparency. You are now one of your school’s central links to the community. Clearly articulating the organization’s mission, accomplishments and goals to the public, as well as garnering support from members of the community, are important elements of a comprehensive public relations strategy. Additionally, as the board of a public institution funded by taxpayer dollars, it is critical that the board function transparently. The board also has a legal obligation to follow the Open Meetings Act and should remember that as the governing body of the organization, it sets the tone and mode of operation for management, staff, and others affiliated with the organization.
GET SMART ABOUT THE PRESS
During your time as a board member, the media can be a great help to you or a great hindrance, depending on your ability to deal tactfully and openly with reporters.
The Center strongly recommends being clear and interactive with members of the press. Every charter school can benefit from a good media strategy. We therefore encourage you, your CEO and your board colleagues to take part in high quality media training opportunities.
Your board should also consider having a designated spokesperson for the school. Typically that person will be the CEO. This helps ensure consistent messaging and offers reporters a familiar point of contact as issues arise.
Knowing Where You are Headed
Knowing the Terrain
Managing Your Assets
Sending and Receiving Messages
Laying the Trail
Administering First Aid
Seeking Help if You’re Lost
Building the Team
Knowing When You Have Arrived
Communicating with Base Camp