Fearsome crises like Covid-19 can all too easily paralyze an organization. I’ve seen more than one public/nonprofit organization over the years respond to a threatening situation by hunkering down, circling the wagons, reducing expenditures, and generally going on the defensive. This has not been the course followed by the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) over the past year in meeting the pandemic challenge, as CABE Board President Don Harris and Executive Director Bob Rader explain in the video interview we recently recorded. Far from battening down the hatches and waiting for the storm to pass, CABE has reached out aggressively to its member boards of education. Based on a thorough assessment of their crisis-related needs, CABE has connected board members around the state and has facilitated the exchange of information on effective Covid-19 strategies via, for example, a widely used list serve and weekly school board chair call-ins, among other creative strategies.
And our readers will be interested in knowing that the CABE Board of Directors made an extraordinarily gutsy decision to provide the association’s services to non-member boards during the pandemic free of charge. Of course, Don, Bob, and the Board were aware that such generosity couldn’t hurt CABE’s image, but they were still pleasantly surprised by the growth in dues paying members over the past year. I wonder how many other state K-12 associations around the country have so vividly demonstrated the effectiveness of an altruistic strategy during a crisis in fostering membership growth.
Finally, one of the really important lessons you’ll learn from the CABE experience in helping Connecticut’s school districts meet the Covid-19 challenge is the critical importance of both a really close, positive board chair-chief executive partnership and the strong ownership of a board that has been kept fully in the loop throughout the crisis. By the way, I was really pleased to learn during my interview with Don and Bob that CABE has never fallen victim to the board down-sizing syndrome that has reduced the effectiveness of many association boards in recent years. CABE’s diverse, 31-member Board of Directors has without question been a precious asset in carrying out CABE’s information sharing strategy. Big might not always be better, but in the CABE Board’s case, it certainly has proved to be.