As a non-profit and independent school, AIS-R serves a wide expatriate community in Riyadh. All current year parents are considered members of the AIS-R Parents Association. The school is governed, however, by an eight-member “strategic” group of "Trustees" who represents the interests of the Parents Association and the AIS-R community. Seven of the eight Trustees are voting members, and one is a non-voting member representing the US Embassy. This member is appointed by the US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Because the Trustees focus their collective efforts on strategic and long-term viability issues, (e.g. policy, finance, security, etc.) they hire a superintendent to manage and operate the school through AIS-R Policy and educational expertise. AIS-R Trustees do not get involved in day-to-day operational issues as that is the work of the Superintendent and the AIS-R Leadership Team. Parent Communication is clearly outlined here: Communication Chart: How Parents Share Questions or Concerns at AIS-R.
Effective School Governance
By Peter D. Relic, Former president, National Association of Independent Schools
If we did not always understand the importance of governance in the world, we certainly do today, especially with all the examples of bad, ineffective governance, including nations, corporations, and universities. For us in non-profit, independent schools, we hope we are learning the lessons well because our children’s future, our future, depend on getting it right.
The experience of more than one thousand independent schools throughout the world in the past forty years, including American international schools, provides clear, emphatic guidelines for effective governance. We have embodied this knowledge in principles of best practice, embraced by the National Association of Independent School in Washington, DC and by virtually every regional association of international schools in every part of the globe. We know that the most effective schools are governed by boards that are policy boards, visionary strategic boards. We have learned that the truly dynamic boards know how to develop goals and objectives, plans to reach those goals, and all the steps to implement those plans. The best boards are visionary, understanding and accepting the challenge of stewardship for the school today and into the future. The research and the literature show the way to govern schools effectively.
Conversely, experience indicates that the weakest boards are operational, with individual trustees intruding in the daily operation of the school, becoming directly involved with personnel or curricular or management issues that should be handled by the administration and faculty.
There is another key component to effective governance: the knowledge and cooperation of the rest of the school community - teachers and staff, parents, students. If everyone does not understand what a strategic policy board is doing, the pressures and demands of the community too often deflect the board from its task and focus. Perhaps this article will highlight for members of the school community some of what the policy board should do, and should not do.
Good practice requires the board to be clear in adhering to the mission of the school, and creating the means for everyone else to be consistent with the mission. The board’s goals and objectives are the foundation for guiding the school in the continued pursuit of the mission. The school’s strategic plan and its vision for the future, emanating from the board’s commitment, involves the entire school in actively living the school’s mission. The board selects and supports the school head in whom is vested the authority and responsibility for the daily management of the school. Together the board and head develop goals and objectives to meet the priorities and needs of the school, and the board holds the head accountable through annual written evaluation (and itself as a board, again through written annual evaluation) for progress toward attaining the goals.
The board is responsible for the financial well-being of the school, including the operating annual and capital budgets, and like no other part of the school community, the board in its charge of stewardship is responsible for the financial strength of the school well into the future through guarding capital assets, fund raising and endowments. Today’s board cares about today; the visionary board cares about the future too, working for this year and striving to create the vision and the means to achieving the vision for the next twenty years and more.
The effective board does much more: the members are always learning, always prepared for each meeting; they keep board committees focused and real, meeting each committee’s charge; they keep accurate records of its meeting and deliberations; they assure compliance with local and national regulations and laws and minimize exposure to legal action; they strive to compose the board to reflect the perspectives and expertise of the community to achieve the mission of the school; they each contribute to the school’s development program, and support and promote the school through their work and presence.
Does the individual trustee represent one child or a constituency? Emphatically not. Board members represent the best interests of every child, every constituency. A vital part of this commitment is the understanding with parents that all matters relating to what occurs daily at the school need to be referred to the teacher, the division principal, the head of school. The strategic policy board understands and holds accountable the administration for the operation of the school.
This brief article perhaps raises as many questions as it addresses. In my continuing association with the school, I would be pleased to address other issues. I am particularly impressed that the board of the AIS-R has striven for many years to be an effective strategic policy board. I am honored to assist in that continuing effort.
AIS-R Parents Association
All parents (or legal guardians) of currently enrolled AIS-R students are automatically members of our Parents Association (PA). The PA is a group of parents organized for the purpose of providing a school for their children of the highest standards established by the Saudi Arabian Government. The AIS-R Trustees represent the Parents Association in the strategic development of the school.
All current AIS-R parents are encouraged to attend school meetings, assemblies, celebrations, Eagle Community Exchanges, Parent-Teacher-Student-Organization (PTSO) Coffees, etc., as a means to stay informed and provide the school’s leadership with feedback, which is an important component of AIS-R’s ongoing school-improvement process. As such, a formal presentation is made to the Parents Association once a semester at the “Eagle Community Exchanges.”
AIS-R is accredited by New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and the Council of International Schools (CIS). AIS-R is authorized to offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma. Recently, AIS-R was awarded CIS’s “International Certification” for its work in terms of global citizenship.
NEASC states that accreditation is, "recognized by the US Department of Education and indicates that a school meets or exceeds established criteria within the profession for the assessment of institutional quality through a periodic process of self-study and peer review. An accredited school has the resources to achieve its stated purposes and provides evidence that its students are benefiting from the curricular and co-curricular programs offered at the school” and, “the final award of Accredited Status demonstrates that a member school has achieved high standards of professional performance in international education and has a commitment to continuous improvement.” Furthermore, CIS states, “The Evaluation Process itself provides an opportunity to improve the quality of education offered at the school.”
AIS-R was first accredited in 1984 by The Elementary School Commission of the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges. In the late 1990s, AIS-R moved from MSA to NEASC. AIS-R was thus re-accredited by NEASC and ECIS (now CIS) in October 2002. In January 2011, a preparatory visit took place to validate AIS-R’s continued accreditation and to prepare the school for the self-study process. The formal self-study process began in the fall of 2011. In October 2012, a joint re-accreditation visit from NEASC and CIS took place resulting in AIS-R being granted a joint NEASC/CIS ten year re-accreditation status, effective January 2013. During this visit, they completed observations and interviews with stakeholders, including the members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, students and parents. They also reviewed a range of AIS-R documents including results from anonymous surveys (see Self-Study Community Survey).
AIS-R was awarded 10-year re-accreditation status as on January 2013. In their letters, both organizations commended the AIS-R community for its hard work and dedication to the accreditation process. In conjunction with this award, the visiting team of experts highlighted the following areas of strength:
- the School community for broad acceptance, understanding and embracing of the Mission statement in decision-making at Board, leadership, teacher and student level;
- the School community for a school climate characterized by fairness, trust, and openness as well as a very positive learning atmospheres;
- the Superintendent and Leadership Team, in concert with the School Board for the vision, energy, and collaborative spirit exhibited in effectively leading the AIS-R community;
- the School community for the extremely effective communication processes between home and school, which have created a positive learning community;
- the Learning Office for the direction and support given to the development, documentation, and alignment of curriculum;
- the School for its organized and coordinated professional development program, which is clearly linked to the AIS-R mission and faculty SMART goals;
- the Elementary Leadership Team and Technology integration faculty for providing effective PD training in the successful implementation of a blogging communication system that has enhanced home/school communication;
- the Facilities and Services team for putting in place efficient systems for organizing the School facilities;
- the Technology staff for their effective support of teaching and learning across the School; and
- the School’s administration for adopting and supporting the implementation and maintenance of the SkyWard program as a system of tracking student achievement and reporting grades.
In addition to the commendations, the visiting team also made recommendations for school improvement to be considered over the next ten years:
- the School develop formal procedures to clearly communicate to prospective families how admissions data will be used to determine enrollment ;
- the School provide students with more differentiated learning opportunities;
- the School further develop a formalized system to use assessment data effectively to help teachers differentiate teaching and learning opportunities to meet the needs of all students;
- the High School use the recommended ELL strategies included in curriculum guides and curriculum maps to integrate ELL support into the written curriculum;
- the High School consider ways to provide the necessary training for teachers to use data generated from MAP for the modification of instruction;
- teachers use more time for developing vertical and horizontal links, especially at the beginning of a subject curriculum review to ensure a planned progression in learning K-12, and better continuity between sections;
- the Board members serve in a key functioning role with regard to ensuring that their strategic planning provides for a sustainable financial plan to address upcoming construction planning and building costs; and,
- the School leadership team review the staffing of learning support services to ascertain whether it is adequate to meet student needs, is aligned across the School, and is used effectively to support the School’s guiding statements and stated admissions policy.
These major recommendations align with areas identified through the Self-Study process and action plans have been developed to address all recommendations over the course of the next ten years. In all cases, action steps have been taken as part of AIS-R’s ongoing commitment to continuous improvement.
Recently, CIS and NEASC announced that they will introduce new accreditation protocols beginning in 2017. As a result, AIS-R will begin its next accreditation review between 2019 or 2020.