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Charter school association has nearly four-hour retreat for Lycée board members

The legal director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools gave Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans board members more than 360 reasons to become a better governing body on Saturday.

“These kids are really at stake, and what’s at stake is their future,” Sarah Vandergriff said as she pointed to a slide of grade school children, blown up for a Powerpoint presentation.

The slide was taken from the school’s website. Written over the collage of toothy smiles were the words, “Enjoy the summer! Back to school is Wednesday, Aug. 14.” Above the picture: “What is at risk if we get this wrong?”

“This is why we’re here today,” Vandergriff continued, directing her attention to the seven board members who attended. “We’re going to talk about adult issues, but it always comes back to this.”

Vandergriff spoke to Lycee’s board during a nearly four-hour retreat, where LAPCS members gave advice on everything from best financial practices to how to properly hold executive sessions.

Lycée Français’ board is the first that the organization, which aims to support and advocate and promote charter schools, has heavily invested in, said LAPCS executive director Caroline Roemer Shirley.

“It’s been a learning experience for us with Lycee,” Shirley told board members. “As you’re learning, we’re learning too.”

Shirley said before this training program was created, she realized that there wasn’t that much support for boards concerning professional development, or a place to find resources or best practices.

“We hope today will be an opportunity just for you to get a basic foundation,” she told the board Saturday. “We fear that sometimes as charter boards come online there isn’t always an opportunity to just take a moment and really understand what your rules and responsibilities are as a board.”

LAPCS members added that Lycée Français board members have a unique opportunity to start fresh, since five newly elected members joined the board in April.

During one discussion, LAPCS staff recommended that the board be mindful to speak and act as one entity when addressing the public or the press. LAPCS Governance Initiatives Director Makiyah Moody said that upon determination of board policy, all board members were obligated to be on the same page.

“There’s a time and a place and for discussion and debate and maybe questioning or being a critical friend,”  Moody said. “But it’s important to realize that after you’ve voted, the vote is the answer.”

When asked about how they might have to put the advice into tangible form, board member Erin Greenwald talked about their search for finding a new interim CEO.

Shirley reminded the board that they were allowed to use executive sessions when discussing personnel.

“Executive session is a place in which you have those discussions and you work to find some type of alignment as a board,”  Shirley said. “Generally your goal is to come out of those sessions with a shared message of where you’re taking, in this case, leadership roles.”

Another discussion focused on engagement norms. LAPCS staff recommended that the board be respectful, embrace openness and vulnerability and share the air, but one Lycee board member had another suggestion.

“We need to be mindful of groupthink. We have a tendency to fall into patterns and it’s a recipe for disaster in nonprofits and for-profit organizations when you have everyone trying to be on the same page,”  board member Tessa Jackson said.

She added that if the board has meetings and everyone votes the same way all the time, board members should be wary of whether or not they were really thinking independently.

“You’ve got to make sure that you’re being authentic to your opinions and your value and your perspective.”

Board member Tim Gray added that one of the hardest things to do as a board was to disagree.

Aside from Greenwald, Gray and Jackson, board members Ann Meese, Elizabeth Rhodes, Ben Castoriano and Alysson Mills were in attendance.

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