By Erika Shugart, Ph.D., NSTA Executive Director
Posted on 2023-12-19
This year’s ballot includes a vote on a major revision of NSTA’s bylaws. This article will explain the rationale for the governance revision and new bylaws, describe the two-year process, and highlight the significant changes.
Associations are guided by several different legal documents that are ranked by priority.
Rationale for the Governance Revision
NSTA has two reasons for revising the bylaws. First, NSTA has a strategic plan that spans 2022–2027. One of the major pillars of the new strategic plan is Community, which includes an initiative to “recruit a diverse volunteer leadership pool.” Currently, the Board lacks racial and ethnic diversity, and none of its members are early in their career. Second, several other factors influenced the decision to undertake a governance revision. Findings from interviews and surveys of individuals familiar with NSTA’s governance indicated that the Board has lacked time for strategic and generative discussions, there is a lack of clarity about the roles of Board and Council members, and Board members have a heavy workload, balancing multiple committees as well as board duties.
The Board also has had frequent turnover. Proscribed seats for certain member constituencies, as well as the heavy workload, have resulted in Board members leaving prematurely. This situation has also resulted in a lack of opportunity to improve the processes for the identification, selection, orientation, assessment, and development of volunteers. Compared to current association governance best practices, NSTA’s governance is overly complex and formulaic.
Timeline for the Governance Revision
The revision has been a two-year process. Our work began in the first quarter of 2022 with a project launch. At that time, we were collaborating with an outside firm, the Center for Applied Research (CFAR). They began by collecting data from stakeholders and developing knowledge of best practices. We had assembled a task force of members (Task Force 1), who worked with them. After the Board heard CFAR’s recommendations, Task Force 1 continued to develop more specific recommendations for the Board. Their recommended changes were presented and accepted by the Board in December 2022.
The work continued in 2023, when a new task force (Task Force 2) took charge of the work and continued to recommend specific changes. Their work was completed and accepted by the Board in March 2023. Throughout 2022 and 2023, members of the task forces and NSTA’s Executive Director conducted listening sessions to share progress and solicit feedback from members. This included holding NSTA town halls at the Houston and Atlanta Spring National Conferences, as well as multiple meetings with NSTA Past Presidents and leaders of State Chapters and Associated Groups. Presentations were also made during the National Congress for Science Education.
In summer 2023, a small working group of Board and Council members drafted the new bylaws (Bylaws Revision Work Group). The groups started the bylaws from scratch based on the model bylaws from Board Source, a well-respected association governance expert, as well as on the recently updated bylaws of several other scientific and educational organizations.
Overview of Bylaws and Significant Changes
Article One defines the corporate name, objectives, and location. It is common language that appears in many association bylaws. We were careful to make sure that the purpose in this section aligns with the Articles of Incorporation and allows flexibility in the location of our business.
Article Two describes the structure and rights of membership. As in the current bylaws, the Board determines the membership categories and dues structure. Members continue to have the right to vote and to hold office. Additionally, the association will hold an annual meeting to update members on the association’s work.
Article Three defines the structure and purpose of the Board of Directors. The Board will focus on determining strategy; their fiduciary duties; and providing oversight, including oversight of the CEO, who manages the organization’s operations. Board members also have an important role as ambassadors. These tasks are similar to those of the current Board. The Board will be composed of the Presidential line and ten (10) Board members, as is the current Board. The secretary, the treasurer, and the chair of the Leadership Council shall be nonvoting, ex-officio members of the Board. This article also contains details about the Board’s meeting and quorum, which remain consistent.
A number of changes are being made to the Board’s composition. Board members will no longer represent specific constituencies in the association, but instead will comprise a competency-based Board in which each member brings unique skills and perspectives to create a whole that is focused on the entire association. There are also specific requirements for the majority of Board members to be practitioners in formal or informal institutions currently or within the last five years. At least one member must be within the first five years of their career, providing an early career perspective. It was very important to the task forces and the Board for NSTA to be managed by practicing educators and for early career members to be given a voice in leadership. Board members’ terms have also been lengthened from three years to four years to ensure continuity on the Board. We will continue to hold competitive elections with up to two candidates running for each slot.
Articles Four and Five provide additional details about the officers and their responsibilities. The presidential line term, unlike that of board members, is three years, so we will continue to have the President-Elect, President, and Retiring President cycle that we have currently. The position of Treasurer remains an appointed position with a three-year term. The Treasurer is the only Board position that can be reappointed for one term: No other positions on the board are open for reappointment unless a board member decides to run for President. The position of Secretary is filled by the CEO (formerly Executive Director). The CEO will oversee operations of the association, which includes staff management, daily operations and program management, creation of the budget for the board to review and accept, and fiscal management of the organization. All of this is similar to the current governance structures.
Article Six focuses on Board committees. The bylaws define three standing committees for the board.
Additionally, the Board will be able to create operational committees and short-term work groups as needed. These committees and work groups can include people who are not Board members.
Article Seven defines districts and the divisions. The districts are regional subsections of the NSTA membership. Divisions are professional subsections of NSTA members. In the current governance structure, Division Directors sit on the Board of Directors. In the new governance structure, the Leaders of Districts and Divisions will sit on the Leadership Council. The board of directors has the power to establish and discontinue the districts and divisions in consultation with the Leadership Council.
Articles Eight and Nine establish the Leadership Council and define its powers. While this group is based on the current Council, it has an expanded role and a significantly different structure. The second part of the governance structure will be a Leadership Council. The Leadership Council is a functional group that will help execute the strategy set forth by the Board. Their role is as follows:
Leaders have three-year terms. District leaders will be elected by members within their regions, and Division Directors will be elected by the entire membership in a competitive election with up to two candidates for each seat. They will be led by a Chair and Incoming Chair, who will be elected by the Leadership Council. The Leadership Council will have standing regional and division professional interest committees. They can create multi-year work groups and short-term work groups as needed.
Articles Ten and Eleven are important to include for legal reasons. Article Ten defines indemnification for Board members, which is language that protects board members and officers from legal consequences of the good-faith decisions that they make on behalf of the organization. Article Eleven covers miscellaneous items. It sets the fiscal year and describes what will happen if the organization were to terminate. This language was suggested by NSTA’s legal counsel to ensure that we are in alignment with District of Columbia–law and association bylaw best practices.
Article Twelve specifies how the new bylaws can be amended in the future. It maintains member control of the bylaws as it is now and notes that the proposed bylaw amendments can originate from either the board or from a group of members.
This concludes the details of the proposed new bylaws, but there is still more work to be done. Currently the member vote on the bylaws is open, and we hope you will vote in favor of them. If the bylaws are approved, the Board will draft organizational policies to support them that will contain many additional details. The Board will also develop a transition plan for moving from current governance structures to new ones.
Members of Task Force 1 (affiliations and position at time of service)
Members of Task Force 2
Members of Bylaws Revision Work Group
Erika Shugart, Ph.D., is the executive director of the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA), a vibrant community of 35,000 members—science educators and professionals committed to best practices in teaching science and STEM and its impact on student learning.
Note: This article is part of the blog series, Association News, which features information and updates about NSTA. Topics include breaking news, milestones and goals, progress and achievements, upcoming events, and member spotlights/personal stories.
The mission of NSTA is to transform science education to benefit all through professional learning, partnerships, and advocacy.