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Mel Gravely

The Significance of Board Training for Head Start Success

head start employee onboardingHead Start programs cannot thrive without the leadership of a well-functioning board. Without a clear and strategic organizational direction that supports the agency’s efforts to navigate challenges and fulfill its responsibilities, an agency may fall off track and ultimately find its funding in jeopardy.  Simply put, board governance issues can impact the entire mission of a Head Start designee.

By offering training to your board members, you enhance their professional development and prepare them for understanding key responsibilities and actions that lead to your program’s success. Don’t put your agency in a position where you could lose staffing, credibility, and funding because your governing board and Policy Council members are unprepared to fulfill their roles.

The Gravely Group understands that recruiting and managing your Head Start governing board is a challenge. But we also know that if you commit to the process and have a plan to recruit the right board members and train them well, you won’t have to do it very often. Not to mention, it’s required by law.

Section 642(d)(3) of the Head Start Act details a grantee’s responsibilities for training the governing body, Policy Council, and committee members.

It reads: “Appropriate training and technical assistance shall be provided to the members of the governing body and the Policy Council to ensure that the members understand the information the members receive and can effectively oversee and participate in the programs of the Head Start agency.”

The Head Start Program Performance Standards clarifies the mandate further, stating that designees must train all governing body and policy council members within 180 days of the beginning of their term. In addition, a designee must also develop policies for ongoing training after the initial training.

Despite the importance of board training, so many agencies do not understand how training can optimize the operations and performance of their program. One peek at the frequently asked questions on ECKLC regarding Head Start Organizational Leadership, and we can see that there is still a lot of uncertainty out there about boards and Policy Council.

The Gravely Group has been training Head Start agencies on proper program governance for nearly 20 years. In fact, one of the earliest posts on our blog, which was started in 2011, was called “What Makes Effective Head Start Boards.” We were still rookies to blogging, so the content isn’t as flushed out as it could be. But even then, we were setting the stage for many more years of emphasizing the significance of board development and training.

For example, in that first blog we talked about the importance of recruiting a diverse board, and how potential new members may need to hear your best sales pitch on why board involvement is a win-win for everyone.

“The Gravely Group can teach you how to strategically design a board that makes sense for your program,” we wrote. “Including recognizing valuable skills sets in individuals as well as ‘making the sale’ to potential members for why board engagement is important and valuable for them.”

We also talked a lot about professional development.

“Professional development activities not only make the board better, but the value provided to the members themselves make them more likely to stay engaged,” we said. “It is vitally important to develop and maintain a professional development training curriculum for board members.”

Since then, we’ve written lots and lots of content about boards, from the pragmatic (see: achieving a quorum and setting impasse procedures) to the sentimental (see: team-building and 5 reasons for board development & training).

To be expected, the pandemic put a bit of a lull in board development and engagement for agencies. We’ve found many are struggling to get back on track with their boards. Board members have moved on or their attendance has been inconsistent. Filling vacancies has also been challenging.

Hiring a consultant can often help programs get out of a rut. In our first ever blog on board development that we mentioned above, we wrote that hiring an outside consultant can give a fresh perspective. Not to mention, training often has the effect of boosting motivation and reigniting the desire to get things done in the days and weeks immediately following the training.

“The consultant is often able to solve problems in a few weeks that some boards may have been struggling with for years,” we wrote.

If your Head Start agency has been struggling to develop your governing board or Policy Council, The Gravely Group wants to be your go-to resource. Our CEO, Melvin Gravely, is a long-time, distinguished parliamentarian who has trained dozens, if not hundreds, of highly-functioning non-profit boards, both in Head Start and out of Head Start.  We look forward to helping you kickstart your board development initiatives, allowing you put together a truly rockstar board that ultimately sets the tone for your rockstar program, for many years to come.

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