Malka Borrego is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Equitas Academy Charter School network. Through its four campuses, the network is on a mission to provide high-quality, college-ready education to all students in the Pico Union neighborhood of Los Angles. We recently had a chance to chat with Malka about managing school facilities and creating a strong board of directors. This piece focuses on the latter.
Thriving Schools: Tell us about the Board of Directors at Equitas.
Malka: We have one board of directors that serves the entire Equitas network and we currently have 9 members on it.
Thriving Schools: What was important to you as you were selecting your board of directors? What were you looking for in the individuals you chose?
Malka: First of all, keep in mind that your board of directors is going to change as your school evolves. That is, as you go from your founding team to the one that’s there many years down the road. This will happen as your school or network grows and as your needs change. With that said, one of the things that I’m looking for in a board member is the belief that all of our kids can go to and through college. That’s my way of determining an individual’s fit with our mission. Next, I want them to bring expertise in an area that we have a need in. For example, we currently have expertise on our board in the areas of bond financing, facilities, law, and community. Again, we’re looking to match skills with where there might be a gap. Finally, we also want someone who’s going to be an ambassador for the network – someone who can contribute financially and with their time.
Thriving Schools: And what about on a personal level? Is there anything you’re looking for there?
Malka: Absolutely! I recently had a Sunday brunch with my board team and we invited all of their significant others and kids to join us too! It’s important to me to have a board that I enjoy hanging out with. Our board is full of fascinating and likable people, and I always look forward to learning more about them!
Thriving Schools: Can you tell us more about how the needs of a board change over time?
Malka: Sure. Like I mentioned before, when we first started our founding board looked very different from how it currently is. Our founding board had more junior members on it who were willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work. At that point, these were individuals who I needed to dedicate their time. Now, however, we go after more senior-level leaders who can bring other resources to the table.
Thriving Schools: How did you find your board members? What did you do to cultivate those relationships?
Malka: I spent a lot of time setting up coffee-meetings during which I would share my ideas for Equitas and ask other individuals what advice they had. I would also ask what types of people they thought would serve well on a board of directors and whether they would connect me with 2-3 people that would be a good fit. I then took everything I learned from these meetings and created a matrix of who I needed, the profiles of those I was meeting with, and started to see where there was a good match. I want to emphasize, though, how important those early meetings were. I still run into people who I met with 10 years ago and find ways to nurture and derive value from those relationships. Ultimately, I took any meeting with anyone that I thought would be helpful because I didn’t know when and where the connection would come in handy.
Thriving Schools: How many of these coffee meetings do you think you had?
Malka: At one time, I think I was doing 40 hours a week of just meeting people.
Thriving Schools: What are we talking about here, maybe 50-100 individuals?
Malka: Easily, yes! That was my full-time job!
Thriving Schools: Any final advice on connecting with future board members?
Malka: One of the other things I did was I got in touch with a lot of my former colleagues and asked them who they might know. Even if they themselves weren’t somebody that I wanted to serve on the board, there was a still a good chance that they knew someone who would be a great fit. For example, one of these individuals connected me with her spouse. And in that case, her husband ended up being my board chair for three years and brought significant legal expertise to our team. So I would have an open mind, ask lots of questions, and keep exploring!
Thriving Schools: Is there a book or other resource that you would recommend for someone looking to create a strong board of directors?
Malka: One of the things I did was I went to the California Charter School Conference and tried to connect with people who knew what they were doing. One of those folks was Brian Carpenter. I would highly recommend his book Charter School Board University.