Self-appointing nonprofit boards that fill their own seats (for example, chambers of commerce, economic development corporations, private colleges, and social service providers) have over my quarter-century in the nonprofit/public leadership arena by design become steadily more diverse and representative. The governance or board operations committee of these boards now typically pays close attention to crafting a more diverse board composition. There are obvious symbolic reasons for fostering greater diversity in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, and age, and adding to the mix of experience, expertise, and stakeholder connections on the board has without question strengthened board decision making. And many third-party-appointed boards, such as those in the public transportation sector, have indirectly fostered diversity and representation by encouraging appointing authorities (such as the governor’s office or board of county commissioners) to fill seats with representatives of, for example, the business community, civic organizations, and such groups as riders with disabilities.
Elected boards, such as the vast majority of public school boards, are another matter entirely. They tend, in my experience, to pay scant attention to their composition, primarily because they have no formal authority to fill vacancies and secondarily because they don’t feel any collective accountability to shape – even indirectly – their composition (for example, by encouraging candidates representing sectors such as the business community to run for seats on the board).
So the Board and Superintendent of Leyden (Illinois) High-School District 212 have taken a pretty dramatic step on the diversity and representation front by adding two (non-voting) student seats to the seven-member Board.
In the podcast I recorded with them for this blog, Leyden’s Board President, Greg Ignoffo, Superintendent, Nick Polyak, and the two current student Board members – Marco Chaidez and Lejla Sadikovic – explain how the decision to add student members was made, how the students are chosen, and how the experiment – now in its second year – has gone. In their opinion, as you’ll hear, adding students to the Board has yielded rich dividends, in terms of representing student concerns in the decision making process and more effectively communicating Board decisions to the students in Leyden’s two high schools.
Five preeminent factors that emerged during the podcast appear to account for the success of Leyden’s Board diversification initiative:
- A student-centered and innovation-friendly district culture
- A Board and Superintendent secure enough to welcome, celebrate, and nurture student involvement in district governance
- A meticulous process for annually selecting the two students to serve on the Board
- A welcoming environment on the Board that encourages active student engagement in all Board activities other than voting and executive session deliberations
- And the fact that the first four student Board members have carried out their governing responsibilities so conscientiously and with such poise