School Board Quarterly Newsletter
Winter 2018
In this edition of the quarterly board newsletter, we will review:

  • Board Policies
  • Policy Resources
Upcoming Trainings
Winter Regional Meetings & Board Trainings
Western Slope Regional Meeting & Board Training
Friday, December 14
Stone Creek Charter School - Edwards Interfaith Chapel Campus
32138 US-6, Edwards, CO 81632
Denver Regional Meeting & Board Training
Friday, December 17
New America - Lowry
9125 E 7th Place, Denver, CO 80230
All Regional Meetings will be held from 8:30am-3:30pm, and all Board Trainings will be held from 4:00pm-5:30pm.

For more information and to register, click here for Regional Meetings
and click here for Board Trainings.
Policies Made Easy
A Quick Guide to Understanding Their Role in Your School's Success
By: John Brendza , CSI School Support Liaison

One of the most common questions I’m asked by school leaders and boards of directors concerns charter school policies. Boards ask why it's necessary to have policies when they have great faith in the decision-making and leadership of the head of school. School leaders complain that policies become overly burdensome in their ability to effectively lead. Boards are uncertain of what policies they need to have, how often they should be monitored or revised, and which ones are the responsibility of the school leader and which belong to the board. They question the difference between policies and rules and regulations, and are cautious of over bureaucratizing the school. The answer is really quite simple. Policies are a necessary requirement that help boards and school leaders understand their responsibilities and what actions are expected in resolving school-related challenges. They are intended to help keep the board and head of school on track to achieve the school mission and out of trouble along the way.

First, it's important to understand the purpose of policies in effectively managing public charter schools and the role that they play in what actions are taken by the board of directors and administration. By definition, a policy is “a course or principle of action taken by a government agency.” The government agency in this case is the school board. These are guidelines approved by the board to determine a course of action to provide consistency in how the school addresses issues and apply policies to individual stakeholders. School policies should be broad enough to allow administrative discretion in dealing with daily issues, yet specific enough to provide direction. The development of sound policies legitimizes board decisions and allows the school to operate efficiently. They should define the roles and responsibilities of the board and head of school, and most importantly, provide a legal foundation to protect the school when challenges arise. The board should be aware of their policies and review and revise them as the school evolves. Those that have the potential to become challenged more often - such as the discipline and grievance policies - should be reviewed annually to make sure that both the board and school administration understand them clearly.

How policies are implemented and administered each day becomes primarily the responsibility of the school leader. It is their charge to determine the procedures that will be developed to fairly apply board policies to students, parents and staff members. In some cases, these are known as administrative policies. They are often the seemingly benign rules (think of drop off and pick up guidelines, lunchroom, playground and hallway rules, teacher observations etc.) that guide daily operations and allow the school to operate efficiently. They can also be more contentious, such as how the school discipline policy is applied to students. In every case of applying board policies, it’s up to the school leader and the administrative team to use their best judgment to ensure consistency and fairness. Additionally, when school leaders realize that board policies are creating challenges, it’s their job to bring these to the attention of the board and to make recommendations for improving or revising the policy. The leader should also have the discretion to make adjustments to administrative rules and regulations as they encounter an evolving school system. The board should have a clear understanding of the administrative processes in administering policies and in some cases approving their application.
As for what policies are required, the best place to start is by reviewing the charter contract between the school board and authorizer. The contract identifies what state statutes the school has chosen to waive, and subsequently those may require a board policy in place of the law. The authorizer will also specify federal and state statutes that should be covered through policy and be able to provide samples for the school to use. The authorizer will then monitor compliance for required policies. For CSI schools, this becomes part of the annual CARS process in evaluating school finance, operational/ governance, and academic performance. When a school is out of compliance, they will be notified of the deficiency and given a timeline to correct the issue. As for how policies are communicated to students, parents, and staff, typically this is done through the distribution of parent, staff, and student handbooks. Although these guides are technically administrative procedures, they consistently reference board policies. Therefore, it's good practice to have these reviewed annually by the school's legal counsel, authorizer and the board. CSI provides each of its portfolio schools with access the Colorado Employers Council that provides HR support to schools and is an excellent resource for reviewing and revising school handbooks. The board and head of school should provide feedback and overview through the review process as well. It’s always good practice for boards and the administrative team to keep informed of school policies and to make revisions when they become antiquated or problematic.

Finding the right balance between being in compliance with required board policies and being overly burdened by bureaucratic regulations can be difficult. Remember to use common sense principles in developing and applying school board policies and administrative regulations. Make sure that all legally required policies are in place and current. Make changes when policies are inadequate or no longer serve the boards needs. Don’t change policies outlined in parent and staff handbooks during the course of a school year, unless your authorizer or attorney tells you otherwise. When a board policy is changed mid-year, a board and/or school leader may be challenged for inequitable application during the school year. It may not result in a legal challenge, but it will invariably result in a public relations fiasco that is better to avoid. Make note of the issue and at the end of the school year make the changes to be effective the following year. Remember that it is the board's responsibility to set policy, and the administration's to regulate their application. Work on developing a trusting relationship between the head of school and board and make sure that you’ve developed a clear means for communication. Spending time now to create the right environment of support and trust between the board and leadership team will position you to avoid major headaches along the way. Time well spent in learning about what policies are required through your authorization contract will help you to effectively govern and lead your school. There are plenty of other challenges that will keep you busy, so take the time to focus of this critical area of concern. You’ll be glad you did when the time comes that you must apply and defend your schools policies.
Policy Resources
  • CSI Legal and Policy Page: includes resources and sample policies. The Legal & Policy team is always available to answer questions
  • CSI Board Governance Page: includes board-specific supports
  • Colorado League of Charter Schools: issues regular communication during the legislative session via newsletters and email subscriptions; annually issues a guide to the legislative session with important legislative changes
  • Other Schools - it is encouraged that you reach out to other CSI schools to share policy resources
Colorado Charter School Institute | CSI_Info@csi.state.co.us | 303-866-3299 | www.csi.state.co.us