Since opening in 1947 to 36 students, Casady School has evolved to become an independent, co-educational, college preparatory, Episcopal day school serving 900+ students in pre-K-12. Located in the heart of Oklahoma City, the institution is on a mission to develop “excellence, confidence, and integrity in students while instilling them with strong spiritual and moral values.”
Embodying these values is HannahLu Watson. HannahLu began serving as the Administrative Assistant to the Head of School in 2017. A seasoned veteran of 35+ years with not-for-profit boards in and for education, HannahLu was not surprised when, during her first days serving as Staff Liaison to the Board of Trustees, she was entrusted with a copy of the ever-important Board Manual and advised that one needed to be created for all new board members and updated annually for returning trustees.
“I was given a copy of a board manual that was a two-inch thick notebook that had all the bylaws, policies, phone lists, committee lists, and the meeting dates,” she says. HannahLu’s predecessor would prepare the manual every summer and distribute copies to the 6 officers and 15 board members who comprised the Board of Trustees. “The intention was for every board member to update it as the year progressed. We probably know how well that worked,” she laughs. “Many trees were killed in the process.”
During that first summer, HannahLu was tasked with finding a replacement for this cumbersome and wasteful process. Though the concept of a board portal was a new one, she did a lot of questioning and research and soon had a long list of providers narrowed down to a few. Based on the experience of a board member whose university foundation had built their own portal, she knew a bit of what to look for. It did not take long for OnBoard to rise to the top of the list.
Since implementing OnBoard, HannahLu has used the platform to make the board more efficient and resolve several challenges, including:
- Moving away from a reliance on paper and emails for communications.
- Receiving new data at the last minute before a meeting
- Needing to locate policies and historical information quickly and needing to get questions answered easily
The two-inch thick notebook that contained bylaws, policies, phone lists, committee lists, and meeting dates and required ongoing manual updates.
From printing and photocopying to centralizing historic documents all in one place.
The Solution to Relying on Paper and Emails for Communications
Casady School’s Board of Trustees is an all-volunteer body of 6 officers and 15 board members comprised of alumni, parents, and business leaders (“a bank chairman, doctors, lawyers, civic leaders – people from all walks of life”). In addition to a passion for education and the well-being of the students, many board members had another thing in common: an overreliance on paper and emails for communications.
“Even when materials would be emailed, board books would still be photocopied on paper,” says HannahLu. “People were still very reliant upon walking in and getting that paper copy because they hadn’t read or had lost track of their emails. And then there would be a lot of paper that would have to be shredded after each meeting.”
HannahLu tested OnBoard first with the board’s governance committee. To reduce the amount of paper she was having to print and photocopy for each meeting, HannahLu uploaded agendas, minutes, and other important committee documents to the platform. “It took a little while to get everyone used to the concept,” she says. “But the beta test went well enough that we were able to announce we would bring it to our full board beginning with meetings during the next school year.”
Fast forward just a year later, and everyone from the Head of School to committee chairs project OnBoard during in-person meetings on a screen from their own laptop or mobile device. “Even if they present their own slide deck, that slide deck then gets added to OnBoard afterward and becomes part of the board book that goes into the historic documents. I love that it is all right there in one place.” HannahLu says.
To increase efficiency even further, HannahLu has empowered other members of the staff to upload committee documents to OnBoard. “We have a very active, healthy committee system. Each committee’s staff person now has learned how to go into OnBoard and create their own agenda and add their own documents,” she says. “I handle the board meetings, so they send me whatever needs to go in the consent agenda and the committee report. But [individual staff members] handle all of the committee meeting documents.”
The Solution to Needing Up-to-Minute Data
Like other organizations, Casady School’s Board of Trustees has a constant need for updated data. Before implementing OnBoard, this meant having to distribute more paper copies, present information verbally, or settling for having less-than-timely data. Now, HannahLu and other staff members can upload documents at any time into the book for a meeting or OnBoard Resource Folders that have been created for each committee.
HannahLu illustrates how this has changed by citing an example from the admissions committee she works with.
“With our admissions and marketing committee, the information can change day-by-day,” she says. “Back in the copy and print day, the committee wouldn’t have the most up-to-date information. Now, if something has changed, we can upload the new numbers at 4:00 in the afternoon right before the meeting.”
“We were always fairly well organized,” HannahLu says. “The ability to upload data at the last minute has made information more accurate and relevant.”
With OnBoard, board members don't have to settle for less-than-timely data. Documents can be updated with critical information at any time.
An aerial view of Casady School, located in northwest Oklahoma City.
The Solution to Getting Questions Answered Quickly
Casady School is accredited by several education associations, including the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest (ISAS), National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), and others. With a commitment to good governance, Casady follows the associations’ recommendations to conduct annual self-evaluations alternating each year between the work of the board as a whole and the trustees themselves.
Not only was this time-consuming, but it was also intrusive to repeatedly email links to busy board members to complete the surveys. The school had been using a third-party tool (SurveyMonkey) to do this, but HannahLu has begun using OnBoard’s built-in Survey tool.
“The very first survey I had them do was a simple three-question demographic survey for the self-study for re-accreditation that we were going through this year,” says HannahLu. “With the exception of one person, I got everyone to do it.”
While she calls these and other uses of the Survey tool “baby steps,” HannahLu is confident she will be able to move away from SurveyMonkey and bring the larger, twenty-question annual survey function in house.
When Casady School’s Board of Trustees first met on February 17, 1947, the first order of business was accepting a donation of the 38 acres, a small lake, one house, and two barns that would provide the land and first buildings for the school. Seven decades later, the Board of Trustees at Casady School proudly upholds that first Board’s legacy of excellence. OnBoard has helped it become even more efficient by:
- Moving away from a reliance on paper and emails for communication
- Empowering staff to upload committee documents at the last minute
- Enabling Board members to have access to important up-to-date information in the palm of their hand instead of an outdated notebook on a shelf.
HannahLu Watson is unequivocal about her positive experience with OnBoard. “When I was given the charge to investigate OnBoard, I didn’t even know what a board portal was,” HannahLu says. “Now I can’t imagine functioning without it.”
For HannahLu, the increased efficiency she has helped bring about using OnBoard means she (or a thick binder of paper) does not have to be the sole repository of information. She recently learned this first-hand.
“I have seen the board grow in understanding that OnBoard is where they need to go for information,” HannahLu says. “A board member emailed me the other day wanting to know if I would send him the latest copy of the bylaws. It happened to be a day that I was at a doctor’s appointment. I couldn’t respond immediately, and 30 minutes later, he said, ‘Never mind. I found them on the portal.’ That is my definition of a win-win!”
The old and the new pose together on HannahLu Watson's desk. “I didn’t even know what a board portal was. Now I can’t imagine functioning without it.”