Board Focus Questions

Items for Consideration

As a board member, knowing when to prioritize key issues helps you plan and use board meetings effectively and efficiently throughout the year. This set of questions is designed to provide guidance to boards during the period between when your charter is approved and when the school actually opens for instruction, a time commonly referred to as the “planning year.” Each question is annotated to denote which renewal benchmarks, sections of relevant New York State law, and sections of your charter agreement lead to or pertain to that item.

Please note that some items may not apply to all schools, and that this list is not exhaustive—there are other items not listed here that boards may need to focus on depending on their priorities. Each board must plan its time in order to address specific issues of strategic importance to their school(s). If you have questions about particular items or are interested in learning more about any particular items, please reach out to an Institute staff member.

Operational Schools
Ongoing
  • Are there reporting systems in place to ensure that the board meets compliance requirements to submit minutes, school leadership changes, and changes in board membership to the Institute? (Renewal Benchmark 2F, 3C) (Charter Agreement Exhibit B Monitoring Plan)
  • If the board is stuck or struggling with particular strategic initiatives, has a member reached out to the Institute for information as to best practices and resources? (Renewal Benchmark 2E)
Annual Strategic/Organizational Meeting/Retreat Topics
  • How is the board ensuring the school’s long-term fiscal health? (Renewal Benchmark 3A)
  • What systems and structures does the board evaluate its own performance? (Renewal Benchmark 2E)
  • If the board uses a committee structure, how does the full board assess the effectiveness of that structure and adjust if needed? (Renewal Benchmark 2D, 2E)
  • Is the board considering applying for additional schools as part of its long-range strategic plans? (Renewal Benchmark 2E, 3A)
  • When is the next time the school is due for renewal? If in the coming two years, does your school seem on track for renewal based on its accountability plan? If renewal may be in doubt, does your strategic plan reflect priorities that, if effectively implemented, would make it more likely that the school would earn a positive renewal recommendation? (Renewal Benchmark 1A, 2D, 2E) (Charter Agreement § 8)
    • Addendum: If the school was granted a renewal with conditions, is it on track to meet the conditions?
  • Has the board considered whether it wishes to expand or adjust its membership in order to increase its ability to guide the school in achieving its strategic goals? (Renewal Benchmark 2E) (Corporate Bylaws)
  • Does the board foresee requiring any large-scale facilities projects in the years ahead? If so, who will be responsible for planning? (Renewal Benchmark 2E, 4D)
July

Academics

  • As part of the board’s strategic plan, what data have the board identified/requested that should be included in the management/school leader’s board reports? (Renewal Benchmark 1A, 1B, 2D)
  • What summer PD topics are scheduled for teachers? How do these topics align to yearly strategic goals and other identified strategic initiatives? (Renewal Benchmark 1E, 2D)
  • How did ELLs who were assessed on the NYSESLAT exam in the spring perform? How does this compare with the accountability plan and strategic plan goals? (Renewal Benchmark 1B, 1F)
  • How is the board evaluating the outcomes of staff recruitment and attrition from the prior school year? Are there any indications that it may be necessary to review benefits, culture, etc. to attract and retain well-qualified staff? (Renewal Benchmark 2C)
  • How is the board ensuring that school leaders have all the equipment, books, and other materials required to operate successfully from the first day of school? (Renewal Benchmark 2F)

Facilities

  • How are any summer maintenance/renovation projects progressing? Are they within budget, and will they be completed in time for the start of school? (Renewal Benchmark 2F)
August

Academics

  • State exam scores should be released by the end of this month. How will the board review results in relation to the school’s accountability plan goals, internal strategic plan, and school leader evaluation process? (Renewal Benchmark 1A, 1B, 2D)
  • Based on state exam results, what was the return on investment for allocated resources last school year? Are there any additional resources needed for the year ahead based on student test scores, including for ELLs and students with disabilities? (Renewal Benchmark 1A, 1B, 2D)
  • Based on state exam results, what adjustments to strategic goals for the year ahead may be needed? (Renewal Benchmark 2D)
  • (For high schools) Based on June and August Regents results, how is your school performing at preparing all students to meet graduation requirements? (Renewal Benchmark 1A, 1B, 2D)
  • (For high schools with graduating classes) What is the school’s college acceptance rate for 2 and 4 year colleges? How is the school tracking college persistence data for its graduates? (Renewal Benchmark 1A, 1B, 2D)
  • How is the school ensuring that it will be ready to serve new students with disabilities and ELLs? Who is reviewing new student applications/records for ELL status and IEPs? Has the school been in contact with the district Committees on Special Education (CSE) regarding settings, services and potentially amending IEPs? (Renewal Benchmark 1F) (Charter Agreement §§ 3.5(b) & 3.7 and Exhibit C Students with Disabilities Assurances)

Facilities

  • Revisit topics from July.
  • Are all certificates of occupancy and insurance in place for the upcoming school year? (Renewal Benchmark 2F)
September

Academics

  • How is the board ensuring that school leaders have an accurate process in place for identifying students with disabilities and ELLs among newly enrolled students? (Renewal Benchmark 1F) (Charter Agreement §§ 3.5(b) & 3.7 and Exhibit C Students with Disabilities Assurances)

Facilities

  • Are all summer maintenance/renovation projects complete? Were any additional projects identified for work during the school year? (Renewal Benchmark 2F)
October

Academics

  • How is the school performing in early year indicators of school culture and discipline such as absences, tardies, and suspensions? How does this compare with strategic goals the board has established? (Renewal Benchmark 1E, 2C)
  • How does the board ensure that data it receives from school leaders is accurate and comprehensive? Are systems in place to quickly get the board additional data if needed? (Renewal Benchmark 1B, 2D)

Facilities

  • Is there a long-term capital project plan for replacement of items like roofs, HVAC systems, etc.? If not, who should be in charge of studying and developing a plan for board review? (Renewal Benchmark 2F)
November

Academics

  • How is the school progressing compared to the metrics and measures in its accountability plan and internal yearly strategic plan? Are there any additional resources needed based on student outcomes? (Renewal Benchmark 1A, 1B, 2D)
  • Have all new ELLs and students with IEPs been identified and are they receiving the proper programming? Have student IEPs been amended to the charter school’s settings and services? (Renewal Benchmark 1F) (Charter Agreement §§ 3.5(b) & 3.7)

Facilities

  • Revisit topics from October.
December

Academics

  • How is the board checking in with the school leader on midyear progress against their performance goals? Does the board have plans and resources in place to support the school leader’s development against those goals? (Renewal Benchmark 2D)
  • How is the board ensuring that curriculum and other academic resources are effectively helping leaders and teachers meet academic achievement goals? Does the academic committee and/or school leaders feel that any adjustments to curriculum choices or resources are needed, and if so, what are they and why? (Renewal Benchmark 1C, 2D)
  • How is the board ensuring that school leaders have clear processes in place to notify families if a student’s promotion is in doubt? (Renewal Benchmark 2D)

Facilities

  • Revisit topics from October.

 

January

Academics

  • Revisiting culture: How is the school performing on indicators of school culture and discipline such as absences, tardies, and suspensions? How does this compare with strategic goals the board has established, and how does it compare to these indicators from earlier in the school year? (Renewal Benchmark 1E, 2C, 2D)

Facilities

  • Revisit topics from October.
February

Academics

  • Based on midyear benchmark assessments, how is the school performing against its accountability plan and internal strategic plan goals for the year? (Renewal Benchmark 1A, 1B, 2D) (Charter Agreement § 8)
  • What do the school’s data indicate about its strengths and areas for improvement? How do these strengths and weaknesses reflect the ways in which the board has allocated resources, and how may the board want to adjust resources going forward? (Renewal Benchmark 1A, 1B, 2D)
  • (For high schools) Based on January Regents results, how is your school performing at preparing all students to meet graduation requirements? (Renewal Benchmark 1A, 1B, 2D)

Facilities

  • Revisit topics from October.
March

Academics

  • What preparations have been made for administration of the state assessments? What do current academic results indicate about likely outcomes of state assessments? What efforts are in place to support all students, including students who are at risk of failure, in meeting or exceeding proficiency? (Renewal Benchmark 2D)

Facilities

  • Are there changes in facility for the following school year? Will the school have all the necessary documents to submit to the Institute by May 15th? Is the timeline for completion feasible and currently on time? (Renewal Benchmark 2F) (Charter Agreement § 3.14)
April

Academics

  • How is the school performing against its strategic plan goals from the year? Based on data from the current school year, what type of goals does the board anticipate setting for next school year? Does the board need to consider engaging any consultants based on what next year’s strategic goals may be? (Renewal Benchmark 1A, 1B, 2D)
  • What activities are being planned to honor the graduates at your school? (Renewal Benchmark 2B, 2C)
  • If your school is offering summer instruction, how is the board ensuring that school leaders have appropriate materials, building permissions, staffing, etc., to make it a worthwhile investment? If summer instruction is in preparation for August Regents, how is the school leader ensuring appropriately qualified staff are available to effectively prepare students? (Renewal Benchmark 1A, 2D)

Facilities

  • If the school will be adding or changing a facility, does the school have all the necessary documents to submit to the Institute by May 15th? Is the timeline for completion still feasible and currently on time? (Renewal Benchmark 2F)
May

Academics

  • How many students are graduating or have completed their final year at your school? Does your school have a process in place to track students after they graduate or matriculate? (Renewal Benchmark 1B)
  • For high schools with a mission of college preparation, what tools is the school using to assess college readiness? What evidence does the school have that its program is or is not preparing students for college, and what does this evidence suggest? (Renewal Benchmark 1B)
  • What data is collected to ensure that the school is continuing to support the graduates of the school? How will your school track this data? (Renewal Benchmark 1B)
  • What summer PD topics are scheduled for teachers? How do these topics align to yearly strategic goals and other identified strategic initiatives? (Renewal Benchmark 1E, 2D)

Facilities

  • Has the school submitted facility documents to the Institute by May 15 for review and approval? If all documents have not been submitted, what is plan to submit, and who is responsible? (Renewal Benchmark 2F)
June

Academics

In reviewing the school’s strategic plan consider the following:

  • What has been the return on investment for the allocated resources provided for strategic improvement of teaching and learning? (Renewal Benchmark 1B, 2D)
  • What are the key findings from the surveys sent to students, teachers and parents? What might be some things that emerged from the survey that should be considered in the strategic planning for the following year? (Renewal Benchmark 2B, 2D)
  • What are your school’s student attendance and suspension rates for the year? How does this rate compare to last year (three years, five years)? (Renewal Benchmark 2C, 2D)
  • Does the school have clear plans in place for the school leader to report to the board on state test results? How will the data the board receives illuminate the school’s progress against its accountability plan and current strategic goals? (Renewal Benchmark 1B, 2D)
  • Did the Institute conduct a first-year, evaluation, or renewal visit at your school this past year? If so, has the board reviewed results and discussed them with school leadership? (Renewal Benchmark 2D)

Facilities

  • Revisit topics from May.
Planning Year Schools
Immediately Upon Receiving the Charter/Up to One Year Before School Opening

Staff and Student Recruitment

  • (If no school leader is identified at time of charter approval) What plan is in place to secure an excellent school leader? Who is directly responsible for the search? What qualities and skills must a prospective leader have? (Renewal Benchmark 1E)
  • What is the overall staff hiring plan? How will the board know if key positions remain unfilled past their target hire date? (Renewal Benchmark 2C, 2D)
  • Has the board reviewed student and staff recruitment and marketing plans? (Renewal Benchmark 2C, 3A) (Charter Agreement § 3.4)
  • Has the board developed contingency plans if student enrollment is low? (Renewal Benchmark 2C, 3A)

Fiscal

  • Has the board established a bank account and set up its books? (Renewal Benchmark 3A, 3B)
  • Has the board and/or school leadership made steps to secure any grant funds such as Charter School Program (CSP) money that may be available? If applying for CSP funds, who is responsible for managing that process with NYSED? (Renewal Benchmark 3A)
  • Has the board developed a Financial Policy and Procedures Manual? (Renewal Benchmark 3B)
  • Has the board initiated/completed the Initial Statement Process and received the letter from the external auditor? (Renewal Benchmark 3A, 3B) (Charter Agreement § 5.1)

Facility

  • (If a site is not identified) What is the plan and who is directly responsible for securing an appropriate facility? Has the board secured real estate counsel to review transaction documents? (Renewal Benchmark 2C, 2E, 2F) (Charter Agreement § 3.14(a)(i))
  • What is the plan to secure a nurse, food service, and transportation? (Renewal Benchmark 2F) (Charter Agreement §§ 3.11 – 3.13) (NY Education Law §§ 912, 2854(1)(b) and 3635) (8 NYCRR § 114.2)

Legal/Compliance

  • Has the education corporation applied to the IRS for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status? (Renewal Benchmark 2F) (Charter Agreement § 5.6)
  • Does the board have an executed copy of its charter agreement with exhibits? Has the board reviewed its obligations under the contract and discussed relevant charter obligations with school leadership/management? (Renewal Benchmark 2F)
  • Has the board reviewed reporting requirements for both the Institute and NYSED? (Note: Even if SUNY is your authorizer, your school still has a number of reporting and compliance requirements with NYSED.) (Renewal Benchmark 2F)

Governance

  • Has the board established a strategic action plan for pre-opening (based on the Action Plan submitted in the application) with clear benchmarks? How will the board know if the plan is off track, and what would happen at that point? (Renewal Benchmark 2D, 2E) (Charter Agreement § 3.1)
  • Has the board met within 30 days of the effective date of the charter to ratify by-laws and elect officers? (Renewal Benchmark 2F) (Charter Agreement § 2.2(a))
  • Has each board member read the conflicts of interest policy and code of ethics and signed off? (Renewal Benchmark 2F) (Charter Agreement § 2.1) (NY Education Law §§ 2851(2)(v) and 2854(1)(f)) (NY N-PCL §§ 715 and 715-a) (NY General Municipal Law §§ 800-804-a, 805, 805-a, 805-b and 806)
  • Will the board establish a committee structure? (Renewal Benchmark 2E)
  • Will the board consider engaging in governance training? (Renewal Benchmark 2E)
  • Has the board established a procedure for providing appropriate meeting notices and minutes in accordance with the Open Meetings Law? (Renewal Benchmark 2F)(NY Public Officers Law §§ 87(3)(a) and 106(1))
  • Does the board plan to procure Directors and Officers (D&O) insurance, and if so, who is responsible for pricing and procuring? (Renewal Benchmark 2F)
6-9 Months Before Opening

Staff and Student Recruitment

  • What plan is in place to secure well-qualified teachers and administrators? Is the board leveraging its contacts and resources to support recruitment? (Renewal Benchmark 2C, 2D)
  • What controls are in place to ensure the school hires the appropriate number of certified teachers or uncertified teachers who meet the requirements of the NY Charter Schools Act? (Renewal Benchmark 2F) (Charter Agreement § 4.3) (NY Education Law §§ 2854(3)(a-1)(i)-(iv))
  • What is the plan to check and verify certification of teachers, and who is in charge of ensuring all leaders, teachers, and other staff are fingerprinted by the school? (Renewal Benchmark 2F) (Charter Agreement § 4.5) (NY Education Law § 2854(3)(a-2)) (8 NYCRR Part 87)
  • How is the board checking in on progress of student recruitment and marketing? What touch points are taking place for families? Does the board need to consider low enrollment contingencies? (Renewal Benchmark 2E, 3A) (Charter Agreement § 3.4)
  • How is the board ensuring that the admissions policy aligns with the admissions policy in the charter agreement? (Renewal Benchmark 2F) (Charter Agreement § 3.4)
  • What is the plan to secure a qualified organization to run the school’s lottery in accordance with state regulations? (Renewal Benchmark 2F) (8 NYCRR § 119.5)

Academic

  • What are school leaders’ plans to ensure all curricula and lessons are high-quality and aligned to state standards and the school’s mission and vision? What curriculum remains to be selected or developed, and who is in charge of that process ? (Renewal Benchmark 1C) (Charter Agreement § 3.5)
  • Has the board reviewed SUNY’s renewal benchmarks internally and with the school leader? (Renewal Benchmark 1E, 2D) (Charter Agreement § 8)
  • How can the board support the school leader or leaders in getting training in skill areas where they may benefit from further development? (Renewal Benchmark 2D, 2E)

Fiscal

  • Has the board reviewed and approved the final Financial Policies and Procedures Manual? How will the board ensure that the education corporation implements those policies and procedures with fidelity? (Renewal Benchmark 2E, 3A, 3B) (Charter Agreement § 5)
  • Has the board completed the Initial Statement Process? (Renewal Benchmark 2E, 3A, 3B) (Charter Agreement § 5.1(c))
  • Has the education corporation contacted sending districts to obtain addresses and contacts for billing for charter school basic tuition and funding for students with disabilities? (Renewal Benchmark 2E, 3A, 3B) (8 NYCRR § 119.1)
  • Has the school received approval for its CSP grant from NYSED, and are monies flowing? (Renewal Benchmark 2E, 3A, 3B)
  • Is payroll operating with a vendor and contract in place, with the system being ready to take on the full staff in several months? (Renewal Benchmark 2C, 3B)
  • If located in NYC: has the school contacted the NYC Department of Education to set up an ATS account for billing? (Renewal Benchmark 2C, 3B)

Facility

  • Is there a clear path and timeline for getting a local (and if outside of NYC, a NYSED) certificate of occupancy (C of O) in place prior to the start of instruction? (Renewal Benchmark 2C, 2D) (Charter Agreement § 3.14)
  • How is the board ensuring that the school has a plan to procure all furniture, technology, equipment and other materials in time for opening? (Renewal Benchmark 2C, 2D)
  • How is the board reviewing various materials and services contracts, such as contracts for curriculum, copiers, security, food, nursing, supplemental transportation, etc.? What is the plan to ensure all service employees who will be in contact with students are fingerprinted by the school? (Renewal Benchmark 2C, 2E)

Legal/Compliance

  • How will the board ensure the school is on track to meet all the requirements of the Pre-Opening Checklist? (Renewal Benchmark 2D, 2E) (Charter Agreement § 3.1)
  • How is the board ensuring that the school is meeting all relevant compliance deadlines? (Renewal Benchmark 2D, 2E) (See Charter Agreement generally)

Governance

  • How is the board establishing strategic academic, operational, and fiscal goals for the school? How are these goals connected to the school leader’s evaluation? What key metrics will the board use to track progress against these goals, and what systems will need to be in place for the board to receive accurate and timely data on these key metrics? (Renewal Benchmark 1A, 1B, 2D, 2E)
  • Has the board started to construct a board meeting calendar that takes into account resolutions the board will have to pass on a regular basis (such as selecting an auditor), elections the board will have to hold, and data and presentations the board will need to see? (Renewal Benchmark 2E)
  • What system will the board use to evaluate the school leader? (Renewal Benchmark 2E)
3-6 Months Before Opening

Staff and Student Recruitment

  • What staff positions remain unfilled, and what is the plan to fill them with appropriately qualified people? What contingency plans are in place should certain staff roles remain unfilled before school opening? (Renewal Benchmark 2C, 2D)
  • Is the school on track to meet enrollment targets? If not, does the board need to make staffing or budgetary adjustments? (Renewal Benchmark 2C, 3A) (Charter Agreement § 3.4)
  • How is the Board ensuring that the Admissions Summary is complete and submitted to the Institute by May 1? (Renewal Benchmark 2F)

Academic

  • What is the plan to ensure staff are well-prepared and trained to execute their roles on day one of school? Does the board need to allocate resources to ensure pre-service teacher training is effective? (Renewal Benchmark 1E)
  • How is the school ensuring that it will be ready to serve students with disabilities and English language learners (ELLs)? (Renewal Benchmark 1F) (Charter Agreement §§ 3.5(b) & 3.7 and Exhibit C Students with Disabilities Assurances)

Fiscal

  • What is the board’s plan to develop and approve the school’s annual budget? (Renewal Benchmark 2F, 3A) (Charter Agreement § 5.5)
  • What is the budget-to-actual on the school’s start-up budget? How, if at all, will this impact the 1st year operating budget? (Renewal Benchmark 2F, 3A)
  • What is the status of the CSP grant? What eligible costs have been reimbursed to date, and what costs are outstanding? (Renewal Benchmark 2F, 3A)
  • If the school has experienced any challenges in securing any grant monies or other funds, has leadership reached out to the Institute for assistance? (Renewal Benchmark 2F, 3A)

Facility

  • How is the board ensuring that all required facility information will be submitted to the Institute by May 15? (Renewal Benchmark 2F) (Charter Agreement § 3.14)
  • How will school leaders ensure the facility is ready with a valid and up-to-date C of O in hand? (Renewal Benchmark 2F) (Charter Agreement § 3.14)
  • If there is any concern that the building may not be ready for the start of school, what contingency plans need to be put in place? (Renewal Benchmark 2F)
  • Is the school on track to have telephone, utilities, garbage collection, internet, nurse, food, security, janitorial and transportation services in place for opening? (Renewal Benchmark 2F)

Legal/Compliance

  • Is the school on track to have student information systems (including student files and health files), student data systems, and other data systems in place for opening? (Renewal Benchmark 2F) (Charter Agreement Exhibit B Monitoring Plan)
  • How is the process of collecting student information such as immunizations, proof of age, proof of residency, and student records proceeding? (Renewal Benchmark 2F) (Charter Agreement Exhibit B Monitoring Plan)
  • What is the status of fulfilling the requirements of the Institute’s Pre-Opening Checklist? What items remain outstanding? (Renewal Benchmark 2F) (Charter Agreement §3.1)

Governance

  • Has the board identified key metrics it will review over the first school year to gauge the school’s academic, operational, and fiscal health? Is the school leader putting systems in place to ensure those data are available in a clear and timely manner? (Renewal Benchmark 1A, 1B, 2D, 2E) (Charter Agreement § 8)
  • Has the board approved all policies needed to operate the school including personnel, student, uniform, etc.? (Renewal Benchmark 1A, 1B, 2D, 2E)
  • Has the board approved all contracts needed to operate the school? (Renewal Benchmark 1A, 1B, 2D, 2E)
3 Months Before Opening through the First Day of Instruction

Staff and Student Recruitment

  • What staff positions remain unfilled, and what is the plan to fill them with appropriately qualified people? What contingency plans are in place should certain staff roles remain unfilled before school opening? (Renewal Benchmark 2C, 2D)
  • Is the school on track to meet enrollment targets? If not, does the board need to make staffing or budgetary adjustments? (Renewal Benchmark 2C, 3A) (Charter Agreement § 3.4)

Academic

  • What is the plan to ensure staff are well-prepared and trained to execute their roles on day one of school? Does the board need to allocate resources to ensure pre-service teacher training is effective? (Renewal Benchmark 1E)
  • How is the school ensuring that it will be ready to serve students with disabilities and English language learners (ELLs)? (Renewal Benchmark 1F) (Charter Agreement §§ 3.5(b) & 3.7 and Exhibit C Students with Disabilities Assurances)
  • Who is in charge of reviewing student applications/records for ELL status and Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)? Has the school been in contact with the district Committees on Special Education (CSEs) regarding settings, services, and potentially amending IEPs if necessary? (Renewal Benchmark 1F) (Charter Agreement §§ 3.5(b) & 3.7)

Fiscal

  • In terms of enrollment, what did the school bill the district(s) for on June 1 compared to the overall enrollment projection? Does the board need to take any action with respect to any variance? (Renewal Benchmark 2F, 3A)
  • Did the education corporation receive all funds due from districts on July 1? If not, who from leadership is responsible for tracking amounts and contacting districts? (Renewal Benchmark 2F, 3A)

Legal/Compliance

  • How is the process of collecting student information such as immunizations, proof of age, proof of residency, and student records proceeding? (Renewal Benchmark 2F) (Charter Agreement Exhibit B Monitoring Plan)
  • What is the status of fulfilling the requirements of the Institute’s Prior Action Checklist? What items remain outstanding? (Renewal Benchmark 2F) (Charter Agreement § 3.1)

Governance

  • Has the board discussed sending one or more trustees to key school events on the calendar? (Renewal Benchmark 1A, 1B, 2D, 2E)