Governance Suggestions for Islamic Schools

By Karen Keyworth 2003

Your attention to the governance system (decision-making system that determines how you govern yourselves in your school) at your school is critical. Not everyone appreciates the importance of governance when they are pulling a school together. Unfortunately, it is often a poorly designed governance system that hurts or even kills a school. Very few schools close down because of a true lack of money or interest. They close because they cannot find a WAY to make decisions about their scarce resources.

I can offer you this advice that the League has learned over the last several years. A healthy school likely has a governance system with most of these characteristics:

School Board Composition

  • One, or preferably two, professional educators with some administrative experience. This does not mean just any professor from a university or college. They are often so involved in their discipline/field that they have little experience with the administration of education. I also do not want to imply that I mean K-12 only. The experience can come from any aspect of education, but that person should have experience in the administration of education HERE IN AMERICA. I stress this because our American system of education is different from overseas, and the experience in our system is critical. All educators on your Board should be either trained in America or have had the bulk of their experience in an American school.
  • A teacher (American-trained) is in an advisory position on the Board. This could be a teacher from the Islamic school or one who is retired, from another district, currently teaching in a public school but interested in the Islamic school, etc.
  • The current Director/Principal is in an advisory/resource position on the Board.
  • One financially astute person who has DEMONSTRATED an ability to make good financial decisions (usually a successful business person) is a voting member of the Board.

Board – Masjid Relationship

  • The Board should be independent of the Masjid or any other controlling body.

Parent Engagement

  • Parents should have a decision-making role (serious decisions, not window dressing).

Related Points:

Q-1: How are the school board members chosen (e.g. by appointment or by election)?

KK: I assume the overall number of Board members would be about 7 members. Some of the seats need to be designated in terms of the abilities needed by the school, for example, an educator, a parent, and a financially sound businessperson. Oftentimes there is only one person both qualified and willing to serve in that seat. However, if you have CHOICE within those designated seats, I suggest an election (see Q-2 below). For any seats where there is choice (some designated seats and all non-designated seats), nominations should be sought from your community at large, time given for nominees to get their philosophy OUT to the community for review and consideration, and elections held. I recommend that the Board be allowed to choose its own Chair after the elections.

Q-2: How are the parents involved in the process (e.g. general election)?

KK: Parents are important stakeholders and should be acknowledged as such. In addition, EVERYONE on the Board with school-aged children must have his/her children attending the school. Not all Board members need to have children, but if they have eligible children, those children should be in the school. At least two (possibly three) of the Board seats should be designated for Parents. The Parents ALONE should nominate and vote for these seats. These seats should not go to the general community for a vote. Other seats should be voted upon by the general community with the parents ALSO participating as part of that general community. (Since the Parent seats are designated and set aside from the other seats, the parents’ votes will not count twice.)

Q-3: What process do you have to monitor the performance of the Board, and who is the board accountable to?

KK: This is very tricky. Most Boards are not accountable to anyone. Boards are elected, and they should be subject to recall. Make the system for recall a reasonable system that makes the threat of recall a serious threat. A very IMPORTANT note: School Boards should work to be (or become) a separate governance structure from their local Masjid governance. Boards that are connected and accountable to masjid governance structures are usually ineffective and unpopular.

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