Governance Case Study: Parents and Math

This collection of case studies features governance issues based on actual events at NAIS schools.* This case study presents the scenario of a board's involvement in the parent body's dissatisfaction with the school's curriculum.

Lemontree Academy was founded 25 years ago as a K-8 cooperative school by a group of parents, many of whom were employed by a nearby university. Retaining its legacy as a cooperative school, the majority of the academy’s board members are current parents of students in the school. Most of the remaining board members have some family relationship to a graduate of the school. During the last six to eight years, the population in the area around Lemontree has grown tremendously, which has been a boon to enrollment at the school.

In the last several years, however, a group of middle school parents has become very anxious about whether the curriculum is as demanding as they believe it should be and whether their children will be properly prepared to excel at the most competitive local high schools. (There is no other independent school in the immediate area.)

Several factors seem to be at play. The children of two board members are doing below average work at the school, which has resulted in some very unpleasant parent-teacher conferences. In addition, other parents have complained to these board members about the middle school math coordinator, whom they believe has "foisted" the current math curriculum on the academy. This particular teacher's response to three parents’ recent complaints was abrupt: He shrugged off their concerns quickly, saying dismissively that many students at Lemontree would struggle too much with a more rigorous curriculum, which would discourage and frustrate them so much they wouldn’t advance as they should. These parents and several of their friends in the Parents' Association have begun meeting for coffee to discuss both their concerns about the math program and their belief that the math coordinator should not be at the school.

At Lemontree's Spring Fling, a parent fundraising event, two parents who were not board members approached several board members asking them for time at an upcoming board meeting to address what they perceive to be a serious problem.

Discussion Questions
  1. If you are a board member who is approached at the fundraiser, what will your responses be?
  2. If you are board member who shares the concerns of the complaining parents, what might you do?
  3. If you are one of the board members who has heard the complaints in other contexts, what will your response be if this matter is brought up in a board meeting?
  4. What is the responsibility of the board chair?
  5. What else should you, as a board member, want to know about this situation?
* The scenarios in the case studies presented on the NAIS website are based on real-life situations that have occurred in multiple schools over time. These scenarios were chosen as case studies because they are representative of the types of challenging situations that schools routinely face. The names of schools and individuals named herein are intended to be fictional. Any similarity to other schools or individuals of the same or similar names is purely coincidental.

These case studies are aligned to the NAIS Principles of Good Practice (PGPs) and can be used as part of a well-defined board education program to support effective governance practices.