Principles of Good Practice for Leadership Transitions in Episcopal Schools


The board of trustees of an Episcopal school has many important responsibilities: supporting and promoting the school’s mission, setting institutional policies, focusing on strategic priorities, ensuring financial strength, evaluating annually the board’s performance and, as trust-holders, providing leadership and vision to ensure the school’s continued sustainability. In supporting these goals, the board has another significant responsibility: the selection, support, nurture, and evaluation of the person who will serve as the head of the school.

When a transition in school leadership occurs, it must be carefully and thoughtfully handled. The responsibility for selecting the new leader rests with the board; it is the single most important act the board undertakes, an action that impacts every aspect of the school’s future.

In parish day school settings, policies regarding authority and decision-making during leadership transitions vary. Thus, the board’s decision in the selection of a new leader may ultimately require the consent of the vestry and the rector. A leadership transition time is an opportunity to clarify and strengthen the relationship between a church and parish day school. However, the transition processes delineated by these principles provide good practices for all Episcopal schools, including independent Episcopal schools. NAES recommends that parish day schools also use the Principles of Good Practice for Governance in Episcopal Parish Day Schools as a resource during leadership transitions.

If your school is not facing a leadership change this year, it is likely that sometime in the next few years it will be. The percentage of heads retiring in the near future is expected to be over 50%. According to the experience of NAES, on average 10% to 20% of Episcopal school headships change each year. NAES recognizes that when a leadership transition occurs, it is unsettling for a school and its constituents. School community members feel most vulnerable when a leader departs—especially if it is the head. When the head of school changes, a whole new leadership team must be developed. Trust-building and relationships begin anew. Thus, guiding a school through a leadership transition must be initiated with competence and care.

In an effort to assist leaders of both church and school in navigating the waters of change that leadership transitions bring, NAES developed this set of Principles of Good Practice for Leadership Transitions in Episcopal Schools. The Principles are intended to:

  • Affirm the importance of the Episcopal ethos of the school and its centrality in the search for the new spiritual and academic leader.
  • Support the professionals and volunteers of both the church and the school as they seek to create smooth, effective transitions in leadership.
  • Assist boards, vestries, dioceses, and search committees in understanding their roles and responsibilities as they embark upon the process to find the new leader who is being called to serve.
  • Ensure an impartial, thorough search process that upholds the values and integrity of the institution.

On a practical level, NAES anticipates that the Principles will be brought to bear on important aspects of our schools’ institutional lives, particularly:

  • the Episcopal identity of a school;
  • the search process for a new leader;
  • the orientation processes of boards and, in parish day schools, vestries;
  • the understanding of the various roles and responsibilities of boards, search committees, bishops, and, in parish day schools, rectors and vestries;
  • church/school relationships; and
  • effective communication with the various school constituencies.

The National Association of Episcopal Schools series of Principles of Good Practice has 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. However, NAES seeks continually to promote effective leadership and 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 effective governance practices in schools.
Herewith are the Principles of Good Practice for Leadership Transitions in Episcopal Schools.

Preparing for a Leadership Transition Notification

  • When a decision is made that the head of school is preparing to complete his/her service, the board chair is first informed. Together, the head and chair determine when the news will be made public via adjoining letters: one from the head and one from the board chair. In a parish day school, the rector is part of this meeting and, with the board chair, composes the adjoining letter. The letter outlines in general terms the process that will be undertaken to find a new leader.
  • The board and the faculty, and the vestry in a parish day school, are notified of the head’s departure in advance of the public notice.


  • In preparation for a leadership transition, the board reviews, reaffirms and, if appropriate, revises the school’s mission statement and by-laws. This important work is completed before the search process begins. Understanding the school’s mission is the most important first step in preparing for a leadership transition.
  • In a parish day school, mission review includes the vestry and the board and the missions of both church and school. In the case of the parish, it also includes a careful examination of how the parish community views the school as a ministry of the church.

Episcopal Identity

  • The board reviews the Episcopal identity of the school and reaffirms the Episcopal ethos as central to its mission. The NAES Episcopal Identity and Religious Life Self-Study and Principles of Good Practice for Furthering Episcopal Identity in Episcopal Schools are recommended as valuable tools for this process.
  • To deepen the community’s understanding about the qualities that define the school as Episcopal, opportunities for education and discussion include the entire school community: faculty, staff, parents, and students. The four primary aspects considered are worship, community life, religious formation and study, and social justice.
  • In a parish day school, leadership transition impacts both the church and the school. From the onset of a transition, the process includes opportunities for church and school members to examine the Episcopal identities of both institutions and to consider the practices that define each as Episcopal.

The Search Committee

  • The search committee is appointed by the board and is an inclusive group with representation from the board, current and alumni parents, and members of the community.
  • The board meets with the search committee to ensure mutual understanding about the committee’s responsibilities, the school’s strengths and current challenges, the budget allotted for the search, and the board’s oversight role in the final decision and contract with the selected candidate. Clarity about the respective roles of the board and the search committee is essential for a smooth search process.
  • In a parish day school, the search committee should include church leadership such as the senior warden and another vestry member. Because of the importance of the rector/head relationship in a parish day school, it is recommended that the rector serve on the search committee. If the rector does not sit on the committee, then opportunities for his/her feedback to the committee must be a significant part of the process.
  • The board determines if leadership for the search process will be voluntary or professional. NAES recommends that a school strongly consider the hiring of a professional search consultant, particularly someone who has an understanding of and has worked with Episcopal schools. The fee for a consultant should be viewed as an investment in the future of the school. NAES can provide the names of consultants who have led successful head searches for Episcopal schools.
    • If the search is led by volunteers, NAES offers many resources to assist the school in the search process. The committee will be responsible for all of the search activities including:
      • Working from criteria established by the board, writing the job description, establishing a list of desired candidate qualifications and qualities, and producing a school profile document—all rooted in the school’s mission and Episcopal identity—for the board’s approval;
      • Publishing the position, profiles, and requirements for candidates’ applications;
      • Solicitation of candidates;
      • Evaluation of candidates’ materials;
      • Assigning and coordinating the preliminary reference checks;
      • Scheduling and conducting the phone and personal interviews with candidates;
      • Coordinating the candidates’ visits including transportation, tours, lodging, and schedules for finalists including interviews with the search committee and meetings with the board chair, board members, the administrators, faculty, staff, parents, and students. In a diocesan school, the bishop of the diocese interviews the finalists, and in a parish day school, the rector and vestry leaders also interview the finalists.
      • A process to receive feedback about finalist candidates from the school community; and
      • Assigning and conducting the full reference checks of finalists.
  • If the search is led by a professional, many of these activities will be coordinated by the search consultant, who will provide counsel and oversight to the search committee. The search professional offers years of experience with schools and important contacts with possible prospective candidates. There is more likelihood of a good match between the new leader and the school if a search professional is engaged.

Change Management

  • The board recognizes the importance of timely, clear communication and, in consultation with the search committee, develops a communication plan that considers the interests of faculty, staff, parents, students, and the greater community. Effective communication about the search process helps to allay the fear or anxiety that often comes with change.
  • In a parish day school, the communication plan includes specific opportunities to address the interests of the vestry and parishioners.
  • The search committee develops and publishes a general time-line for the search process, and builds in opportunities for the community to meet and give feedback about the candidate finalists.
  • The board appoints a committee to coordinate events to celebrate and honor the departing leader and his/her service to the school.
  • The school community continues to recognize and respect the departing leader and, as much as is possible and appropriate, the search and board chairs share updates with him/her as the search progresses.

The Search Process

  • Search committee members uphold a strict policy of confidentiality in all aspects of their work to protect and respect the integrity of the search process and the candidates. All members of the school community should be made aware of the crucial role that confidentiality plays in a successful search process.
  • The search committee, in consultation with the board, determines if the search is for an interim or a permanent leader. An interim is appropriate when:
    • the departing leader’s tenure has been long;
    • the time for the search is short;
    • the search does not yield an acceptable candidate;
    • the school has gone through a particularly turbulent time; or
    • there is not a consensus about the future needs of the school.
  • The board develops a charge to the committee about the desired outcome. It is recommended that the search committee select and present one candidate for board approval.
  • The search committee manages all aspects of the search process.
  • In a parish day school, candidates are fully educated about the relationship between and the history of the church and the school, the effective partnership model between the head and the rector, and the school leader’s responsibilities to the church that are an integral part of the headship of a parish day school. These responsibilities include being visible in the life of the congregation and establishing avenues of effective communication with the rector, vestry, and congregation.
  • The candidate spouse or partner and other family members receive a warm welcome and attentive hosting during candidate campus visits. A volunteer committee of hosts and hostesses assists in introducing and highlighting the school and greater community.
  • Internal candidates bring unique challenges to the selection process. To protect their privacy and their on-going role in the school, the search committee handles their candidacy with special care. In order to ensure the integrity of the process and the full and impartial consideration of all, internal and external candidates are accorded the same attention and fulfill the same requirements in the search process. Before finalists are publicly announced, internal candidates if not selected as finalists are informed and given the opportunity to withdraw their application.
  • The search committee develops a report on each finalist, and notes the distinctive qualities about each. The committee then completes its charge as determined by the board and brings its recommendation to the full board for its decision and approval.
  • In a parish day school not separately incorporated, the board’s decision is confirmed with the consent of the rector and the vestry.
  • Candidates that are not selected are contacted immediately by a member of the search committee or the search consultant before the public announcement.
  • The terms of the leader’s contract are set by the board, and negotiated by the board chair with the selected candidate.
  • The board appoints a transition committee to work with the head-elect to create and implement a plan for a smooth transition in leadership. Ideally, that committee will include some members of the search committee who have already developed a relationship with the head-elect.

Introducing the New Leader

  • The search committee and board chair meet shortly before the public announcement with the school faculty and staff to announce the selection of the new head of school.
  • The announcement of the newly appointed leader is made to the parents, students, alumni, and greater community and, in a parish day school, to the church staff and parishioners. Together, the newly appointed head-elect and board chair determine when the news will be made public via a letter from the board chair. In a parish day school, the rector is part of this meeting and, with the board chair, composes the announcement.
  • Members of the new school community should recognize that often the head-elect is completing his or her work in another institution. To ensure a smooth transition, the school community understands that as the head-elect enters the life of the new school, he/she concludes important work in another.
  • The transition committee coordinates opportunities for the head-elect and his/her family to visit the school to meet with the various constituencies. The gatherings planned are welcoming and gracious, and provide time for the community members to begin to meet and get to know the new leader.
  • To ensure a smooth transition, the head-elect meets with the outgoing head, key administrators and staff, the faculty, students, and board. Time spent listening to and getting to know the members of the school community helps the new leader to build trust and gain understanding. It also prepares the new leader to provide vision and direction with confidence and credibility.
  • In a parish day school, the head-elect also meets with the vestry, church staff, and parishioners to begin to get to know the church community, to build trust, and to gain an understanding of the partner institution.
  • To honor the contributions of the outgoing leader and to ensure a healthy beginning for the new head, the role of the outgoing head is carefully considered and delineated by the board.
  • The outgoing head is often expected to complete his/her service and remove his/her physical presence from the school for a time. While long-established relationships remain important, the new head can thus feel empowered to begin to build new relationships and to gain the confidence of the community.

Assisting the New Leader in Joining the Community

  • The transition committee assists the head-elect in his/her relocation by providing tours of neighborhoods, introduction to realtor choices, moving company options and, if needed, temporary housing possibilities.
  • In order to assist the new leader in getting to know people and continuing to build relationships with key members and supporters of the school community, the transition committee with the board creates and prioritizes a list of people that the new leader will meet in the opening days of his/her tenure.
  • A welcome team oversees the relocation by ensuring that the head-elect’s new home and office are ready for occupancy, providing food and refreshments on moving day, and creating hospitality packages that include maps of the area, lists of nearby amenities and services, and other information to meet the needs of the family.

The New Leader’s First Year

  • The board and new head together set detailed goals for the first year. The goals are realistic and measurable, and will be the criteria used for the evaluation process of the leader’s performance during his/her first year.
  • Every member of the board demonstrates support for the new head. Any concern is shared with the board chair who will address it confidentially with the new leader. Honest, helpful feedback rather than criticism is important.
  • The board chair assists the new head by providing candid information about sensitive issues and past history so that the new leader is not caught unaware about potential minefields. The school has a vested interest in the new leader’s success. Thus, the board chair offers insight and wisdom to make the new head’s entry into the community as enlightened and positive as possible.
  • The transition committee continues its work by planning an installation of the new school head, a special worship service that includes the entire school community and friends of the school. In a parish day school, the church community is also included.
  • The transition committee also plans on-going appreciation and support for the new head and his/her family. This could include gift certificates, theater and sporting event tickets, weekend getaways, flowers, cards, and notes.
  • Weekly meetings of the new head and the board chair begin as soon as the new leader arrives. Time together is essential in building the strong relationship needed for a successful partnership.
  • A wise board will allow its head’s first year to be a time for listening and learning. The new leader’s first priorities are building relationships and trust among all constituent groups and gaining knowledge of the school and its needs.
  • In a parish day school, weekly meetings of the new head and the rector also begin as soon as the new leader arrives. A strong church/school partnership depends upon the relationship between these two key leaders.
  • The new head initiates a ministry of presence to many constituencies: school families, faculty, staff, students, and, in a parish day school, parishioners.
  • The new head makes plans to attend the next NAES Biennial Conference, a unique opportunity to enter and begin to appreciate the network of Episcopal schools with which he/she is connected. He/She also attends the NAES workshop for heads new to Episcopal schools.

Leadership Transition in a Parish Day School: The Search Process and Call of a New Rector

Processes for the call of a new rector differ from diocese to diocese. However, the general principles of good practice that follow will assist in the development of a successful parish day school partnership with its sponsoring parish. NAES also recommends the Principles of Good Practice for Governance in Episcopal Parish Day Schools as a resource for how best to ensure a smooth leadership transition in parishes with schools.

  • If the search is for a new rector, the parish search committee includes representation from the school such as the board chair or a board member, and a parent. The head of school may sit on the committee. If not a member, the committee should provide opportunities for his/her feedback, which shall be considered to be a significant part of the process.
  • Rector candidates are fully educated about the relationship between and the history of the church and the school, the effective partnership model between the rector and the head, and the rector’s responsibilities to the parish day school that are an integral part of the leadership of a church with a parish day school.
  • When selected, the new rector-elect meets with the school staff, faculty, and students to begin to get to know the school community, to build trust, and to gain an understanding of the partner institution.
  • Weekly meetings of the new rector and the head begin as soon as the new leader arrives. A strong church/school partnership depends upon the relationship between these two key leaders.
  • The rector initiates a ministry of presence to many constituencies including parishioners, church staff, school faculty and staff, school families, and day school students.
  • The new rector makes plans to attend the next NAES Biennial Conference, a unique opportunity to enter and begin to appreciate the network of Episcopal schools with which he/she is connected. He/She also attends the NAES workshop for rectors new to Episcopal schools.

In summary, the National Association of Episcopal Schools commends these Principles to school leaders. Episcopal schools thrive when leadership transitions are handled with sensitivity, concern for all members of the community, and attention to a fair and thorough selection process. These Principles will assist you by providing:

  • processes for effective and thoughtful leadership transitions;
  • clarification of roles and responsibilities during transitions;
  • timely and intentional communication strategies;
  • appropriate ways to include the various school constituents in the transition process;
  • activities to welcome the new leader into the school and community;
  • examples of how to build a new, collaborative leadership team; and
  • practices to build a strong church/school partnership.

A successful leadership transition process, focused upon the school’s Episcopal identity and mission, empowers a community and sustains its spirit. The new leader commences his/her tenure feeling welcomed, supported, and called to serve, and the school embarks upon the newest chapter of its history with confidence and faith.

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.