In Our Words

Looking at Governance at YIS
Looking at Governance at YIS

Looking at Governance at YIS

by Bob Pomeroy, Head of Operations

Events like the fantastic Food Fair we enjoyed this past weekend highlight the pervasive sense of community and volunteerism that make YIS such a special place. This spirit ultimately derives from the people at YIS, but it also springs from the school's mission, values and community-based system of governance. Not everyone is familiar with how YIS is governed, so with the Annual General Meeting (AGM) coming up tomorrow evening I thought it would be a good time to take a brief look at the YIS governance structure and what this means or our community.

From its founding in 1924, when six members of the foreign community in Yokohama established a school for their children, YIS has been community-led. Since 1969, YIS has been registered under Japanese law as an independent, not-for-profit educational institution technically known as a "school juridical person," or "gakko hojin" in Japanese. Under the gakko hojin regulations and the school's "Act of Contribution" and "Constitution," the governance structure at YIS consists of the Board of Directors, the Board of Trustees and the Auditors.

You may wonder who sits on these boards, what do they do, and how does their work impact our children. Before looking at the roles and composition of these three governing bodies, note that the school administration - the Head of School and other staff in leadership positions - are the ones that manage the school's day-to-day operations and who implement school policy. Specifically, it is the school administration - and not the boards - that is responsible for academics, admissions, personnel, pastoral care, campus operations and other regular functions of being a school.

The Board of Directors, an 11-member group, which is elected at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) attended by parents, faculty, staff and alumni, is charged with providing strategic direction for the school, setting school policy, ensuring the school's financial stability and sustainability, and overseeing the Head of School. As former Board chair Bill Werlin has noted, the Board of Directors as an elected body "is subject to the ultimate authority of the broad community of persons whose lives and concerns are intertwined with YIS. Under Japanese law and by historical precedent, the Board of Directors has overall responsibility and accountability for the institution."

Board members have historically been parents of students at the school, although by regulation they may also include YIS alumni who are at least 25 years old or "persons of knowledge and experience." They serve voluntarily for three-year terms, meeting six or seven times per year plus additional committee meetings, and may stand for re-election at the AGM. Nine of the current Board members are parents of currently enrolled students, and two are are parents of recent YIS alumni, including Board chair Lester Yoshinami-Hitachi, who is also an alumnus himself.

Japanese law also stipulates that YIS have a Board of Trustees, a 23-member group appointed by the Board of Directors that must approve major actions taken by the school, such as the sale of assets and taking out of loans. The Board of Trustees also serves as an advisory group that comments on the annual budget (which is set by the Board of Directors) and other issues of importance. Trustees are comprised of parents, YIS staff, alumni and persons of knowledge and experience.

Finally, two Auditors, appointed by the chair of the Board of Directors, must also approve major actions taken by the school (sale of assets, etc.), and generally play an oversight role for both the Board of Directors and Board of Trustees.

Reflecting the close community that is a YIS hallmark, we are fortunate to have a group of dedicated individuals on our governing bodies who give of themselves, volunteering their time, energy and experience to make YIS the best school that it can be - now and for years to come. But with a globally mobile population like ours, people do move on so there will always be opportunities for new members to become involved.

Although YIS board positions are uncompensated, they do provide many intangible rewards. Notes Board of Directors member John Nordlander: "Serving on the board helps me connect my values, actions, and hopes. I place great value on finding and nurturing relationships that help make a positive contribution to the community, and I believe in taking action, raising my hand and trying to use my skills to help the community. I truly hope that my children will interact with teachers, students and administrators who embody the YIS values - thereby teaching with their words and with their actions. Serving on the board helps me live out these values and hopes and I am very grateful for the chance to help our community grow."

See YIS governance in action tomorrow at the AGM, which starts at 7:30 pm in the Auditorium. For another perspective on the school's governance, see this article by former Board chair Bill Werlin.
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