NAIS Research: 2023–2024 State of Independent School Governance, Part 1: Board Composition, Membership, Policies, and Practices

By Margaret Anne Rowe and Amada Torres
NAIS Research Team

Executive Summary

2023-2024 NAIS State of Independent School Governance Part 1Part I of the 2023–2024 State of Independent School Governance highlights the continued strength of independent school boards to adopt and maintain best practices in governance.

In 2023, the number of board members (including ex officio and emeritus members) in independent schools had increased slightly from 2018, though boards still have a slightly smaller average number of members than in 2012 and 2006. In terms of gender, the share of women on school boards continued to increase, although percentages vary by school type, region, and the head’s demographics.

Parents make up a large share of voting members of boards, although composition varies between different types of schools. Most schools continue to have ex officio trustees, but fewer allow them to vote than five years prior. Conversely, a majority of schools reported not having emeritus or lifetime trustees on their boards; those that do also typically do not allow them to vote. More than ever, boards self-perpetuate their members.

The average number of permanent committees is six, an increase from 2018. Nearly half of respondents indicated having between four and six committees, while 38%, a far larger share than in 2018, had more than six.

Close to four in five respondents reported that three years continues to be the usual stated term for board members, about the same as in previous years. The majority of schools indicated that terms for board members, committee chairs, and board chairs are renewable.

There is no one set number of times per year that an independent school board will meet, with boards reporting a wide range in their total number of meetings. More schools now hold an executive session every board meeting as needed, while open board meetings have continued to decrease in popularity since 2012.

Three-fourths of respondents reported that boards engage in professional development activities together at least once a year. Those activities most typically include listening to outside speakers, sharing professional development publications, and attending events sponsored by other organizations.

In 2023, close to nine out of 10 heads indicated that their boards evaluate their own performance. Most formal self-evaluations of the board take place once a year, similar to past results.

Nearly all boards (98%) formally evaluate the head of school’s performance, maintaining an increase from 2012 (93%) and 2006 (92%). As with the board’s own formal self-evaluation, the evaluation of the head of school is most likely to be conducted once a year (86%), about the same as in 2012 and 2018.

Background and Methodology

This report presents Part I of the 2023–2024 State of Independent School Governance of heads of schools, NAIS's fifth entry in the series since 2002. For the first time, the report was split into two sections, the first focusing on the state of governance, and the second on the state of the head-board relationship. The survey and analysis for Part I were conducted in fall 2023. To collect the information in this report, heads of school were invited by email to participate through the SurveyMonkey platform.

A total of 1,915 invitations were sent. Email delivery failed for 60, and 16 recipients opted out of surveys. Out of 1,839 potential responders, 506 complete and partially complete responses were received for a response rate of 28%. Five respondents were deemed ineligible to participate due to their membership status or governance structure and were removed before analysis.

Part II was conducted in January 2024 with heads of school and board chairs. The results will be released in a forthcoming Part II report.

Downloadable Content

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This report is a must-read for school leaders to learn more about independent school governance trends, benchmarks, and best practices. And for organizations and consultants that work with schools, the data and insights will help inform your work and interactions with the schools you serve.

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