Over nine hundred parishes and cathedrals in the Episcopal Church have a school as part of their ministry. Parish day schools are a vital dimension of the Episcopal Church’s ministry of outreach, and each year a growing number of children are nurtured in mind, body, and spirit in our parish schools.
The NAES Strategic Plan 2001 describes governance of day schools in the parish setting as a challenge because “the levels of communication and accountability required by the complex nature of Episcopal schools’ relationships with other church entities call for special expertise and leadership development.” The complexity of governance in the parish day school model can include more than twenty-three groups of stakeholders, which adds up to thousands of people with intersecting interests who are part of the school setting. It is no wonder that vestries, rectors, school boards, and heads, who share the responsibility for governance of parish day schools, so often seek support from NAES to help them understand their roles and responsibilities.
Parish and school leaders are responsible for ensuring effective governance in parish day schools. The way individual leaders relate to one another creates the atmosphere in which everything else happens between church and school. Bylaws and canons set the parameters of the mission and its outcomes, but they cannot initiate a sustainable conversation between church and school. Only people can.
In an effort to assist leaders of both church and school in effective governance in the parish day school setting, schools where thousands of children and families grow and learn each year, NAES has developed this set of Principles of Good Practice for Governance in Episcopal Parish Day Schools. While most of the following principles apply to all parish day schools, regardless of their incorporation, some are only applicable to those schools not separately incorporated from their parishes. ThePrinciples are intended to:
- Support the professionals and volunteers of both the church and school as they seek to be responsible, caring leaders and partners in the governance of the parish day school.
- Assist vestries, rectors, school board members, and heads in understanding their roles and responsibilities, and the boundaries that define each particular role in the governance process of a parish day school.
- Guide discussion and processes as leaders strive to create trusting, collegial, and mutually fulfilling relationships in the parish day school setting.
On a practical level, NAES anticipates that the Principles will be brought to bear on important aspects of our schools’ institutional life, particularly:
- church-school relations;
- vestry, board, and staff orientations and the understanding of the various roles and responsibilities;
- parent orientation processes;
- strategic and annual planning processes;
- leadership transition processes;
- regular self-study of governance processes as part of an academic accreditation self-study;
- vestry, board, rector, and head evaluation processes; and
- marketing to the community the unique church/school partnership found in parish day schools.
The National Association of Episcopal Schools series of Principles of Good Practicehas been developed to share best practices found in Episcopal schools, to delineate the important issues that are common to Episcopal schools, and to offer guidance as each school develops and reviews policies and practices. Because each Episcopal school is unique, there is not a “one size fits all” formula for Episcopal schools. However, NAES seeks continually to promote effective governance in Episcopal schools and invites school and church leaders to use the Principles as a tool in planning, modeling, and encouraging additional reflection about governance practices in parish day schools.
Herewith are the Principles of Good Practice for Governance in Episcopal Parish Day Schools.
- The school’s bylaws clearly articulate the mission of the school, the relationship between the church and school, and the role of the vestry and the board.
- The bylaws define the school as an extension of the mission of the parish, subject to the consent of the vestry of the church, and guided by a board with clear authority for developing policies and providing oversight.
- A joint board/vestry committee periodically reviews the bylaws. Recommendations for changes are brought to both the board and vestry for discussion and consideration.
Relationship between the Church and School
- The parish views the school as a significant outreach program to the community.
- School board membership includes sufficient representation of parishioners to ensure a strong church presence and to sustain the school’s continuing Episcopal identity.
- Church and school leaders, both professional and volunteer, exercise their ministry in a collegial partnership.
- Responsibility for the Episcopal identity of the school rests upon the shoulders of every member of the leadership team: vestry, rector, board, head, chaplain, faculty, and staff.
Roles and Responsibilities: Vestry and Board, Rector and Head
The Vestry and Board
- In parish day schools that are not separately incorporated, the vestry has ultimate responsibility that the school is managed wisely and soundly. Vestry members understand and support the need to delegate to the school board the authority to provide oversight and set policies for the school.
- The board works to ensure the future of the school and its continuing Episcopal identity.
- The vestry is knowledgeable about the history, philosophy, bylaws, and strategic priorities of the school.
- The board is required to have an understanding and appreciation of the sponsoring church and its history, philosophy, and strategic priorities.
- Vestry members stay informed through regular reports from the school.
- The board ensures appropriate reporting procedures and promotes open communication between the church and school.
- Comprehensive orientations of new vestry members include information about the school’s relationship with the parish, its history, and annual and strategic school goals.
- The orientation of new board members includes information about the school’s relationship with the parish, its shared history, and annual and strategic parish goals.
- The vestry respects and supports the distinctive ministry of the head and school board members.
- The school board respects and supports the unique ministry of the rector and vestry.
- Vestry members help to set the tone for the parish and, in both words and actions, are at all times supportive of and positive about the ministry of the parish day school.
- Board members help to set the tone for the school and, in both words and actions, are at all times supportive and positive about the ministry of the church.
- The vestry and the school board together ensure a healthy, harmonious parish community, and seek to understand and support the unique role of the partner governing body.
- The board sets policy, oversees the school’s management, ensures financial stability, and plans for the future.
- The board is responsible for hiring, evaluating, and supporting the head of school, who serves at the discretion of the board.
The Rector and Head
- The rector is a critical link within the governance structure of the congregation and the school. He/She is the spiritual leader of the parish.The head of school sets the tone in all areas of the life of the school and serves as both an academic and spiritual leader of the school community.
- The head communicates to the parents and the larger community the goals of the school including its special nature as an Episcopal church school.
- The rector seeks to be visible in the life of the school and his/her presence is welcomed by the school head.
- The head may or may not be an official member of the congregation but is clearly visible in the life of the congregation.
- The rector is entrusted to promote the spiritual life of the parish and the school.
- In parish day schools that are not separately incorporated, the rector supports the delegation of authority by the vestry to the school board for the oversight of the school and, through the board, to the head for administration and operations.
- The head is responsible for the care and support of the faculty and staff and hires, evaluates, and terminates faculty and staff. The head sets curriculum.
- If the school chaplain also has responsibilities in the parish, the rector provides oversight and evaluation of the chaplain in parish programs while the head holds the same authority and responsibility in the chaplain’s school duties.
- The head works with the board and oversees all areas of management, financial affairs, fundraising, and academic programs.
- In consultation with the rector, the head develops the religious programs for the school.
- The rector builds understanding and models support for the different ways in which the congregation and school fulfill the mission of the parish. The rector helps parishioners appreciate the ministry of the school, and all times models positive, enthusiastic support for the parish day school, its mission, and its leaders.
- The head builds understanding and models support for the different ways in which the congregation and school fulfill the mission of the parish. The head helps the school community appreciate the ministry of the church, and at all times models positive, enthusiastic support for the parish, its mission, and its leaders.
- The head establishes avenues of effective communication with the rector, vestry, and congregation.
- The head respects the role of the rector as the leader of the parish, and works to create a trusting, collegial relationship with the rector.
- The rector views the head of school as a leadership partner, and works to create a trusting, collegial relationship with the head.
- The head is responsible for the admission of children, and with the faculty and staff, guides their progress, and recommends future placement.
- The vestry, board, rector, and head work together to establish a policy regarding the admission of parish children.
- Vestry and board membership assure appropriate representation of both school and church leadership.
- Regularly scheduled weekly meetings are held between the rector and head, and the head and the board chair. Time together builds trust, strengthens the relationship, and offers mutual support to leaders who are called to model unity and respect.
- Vestry and board members meet together several times each year to get to know one another, to learn about the priorities of the partner institution, and to plan together. Time together builds the leadership partnership.
- Effective partnerships depend upon good communication, trust, and collaboration. “No surprises” is a model that supports the partnership and enables leaders to model a united spirit when confronted with the inevitable controversies and crises that arise.
- When disagreements or conflicts occur, leaders of the church and the school practice exemplary behavior. A trusting partnership endures when leaders demonstrate consistent support of one another, even when there are differences of opinion.
- School events are open to vestry members, and an annual “Vestry Visiting Day” is recommended. Likewise, school board members are recognized and shown appreciation at an annual “Episcopal School Sunday Service.”
- Agreements regarding shared space and maintenance costs are created in partnership with the vestry and board, and are reviewed on a regular basis.
- Annual and long term goals, developed and adopted by the board, guide the work of the board and head. Periodic reports are given to ensure board oversight of progress in the implementation of the approved goals.
- Joint planning between the vestry and board occurs annually.
- Any formal strategic planning or discussion of major financial initiatives and property usage includes consultation with the leadership group of the partner institution.
- Orientation of new vestry and board members includes training about:
- best practices in governance;
- the Episcopal identity of the school;
- the institution they oversee, and also the partner institution.
- When a search is undertaken for a new rector or head of school, representation from the partner institution is included on the search committee.
- In the search process, candidates for the position of either rector or head are fully educated about both the church and the school and about the various leadership roles and responsibilities in both institutions that come with the position.
- The board annually evaluates the head of school through a process developed by the board in consultation with the head. The most effective evaluation process focuses on pre-determined goals for the year, and measures the head’s progress in accomplishing the goals.
- The board annually evaluates its own performance and determines areas for improvement.
In summary, the National Association of Episcopal Schools commends these principles to church and school leaders. As role models for the children and families served in Episcopal schools, these leaders are called to uphold the values that underlie and inform these principles:
- the importance of healthy, trusting, supportive relationships;
- the need for an awareness of and respect for boundaries and appropriate roles;
- the responsibility and commitment to continually educate members of the community about effective governance practices; and
- the partnership model that unites a parish with the school.
Disclaimer: Please note that the information provided should not be construed as legal advice nor should it be used as a substitute for consulting with legal counsel.