Explores the efficacy of the school board as representatives of the greater educational community.
As educational systems continue to move from institutionally closed systems to more open systems involving a variety of stakeholders, the role of the board as community leaders of the school system grows in importance. A strong board can work to establish a vision and a mission for a school district that will move them forward toward quality education for decades, while a weak board can create tremendous systemic damage that could take years for future leaders to overcome.
Add to this the number of complex issues with which modern school boards must deal and the significance of well-trained, visionary boards becomes paramount. While boards of yesteryear dealt with some difficult issues such as passing bond issues to fund construction and dealing with convoluted political situations, boards of today must deal with complicated federal and state mandates while still dealing with the problems that past boards encountered.
Consider the consternation and confusion of a new board member in her first year of service. She is confronted with a myriad of issues which are difficult to understand. She must learn about the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), the federal testing requirements in order to meet Acceptable Yearly Progress (AYP) while still undergoing training to understand all of her home state’s requirements with regard to education and the learning progress of children. At the same time, she is continually faced with the concerns of parents, students, educators, and community members.
For these reasons it is imperative that school board members gain critical short-term training and long-term development as quickly as possible after assuming the role of board member. According to the National School Boards Association (NSBA, 2007) effective leadership on the board revolves around for key development elements. These four essential elements for board effectiveness are:
Board members must be able to determine the long-range vision for the school district. In order to correctly govern effectively, it is necessary for board members to envision the future of the district and work together with the chief executive officer to plan the direction of the school district. It is necessary to involve the community extensively in the formulation of this plan.
In order to realize their vision, the board must provide a governance structure in which those responsible for the operation of the school district can work. This structure must be set my policy and should provide for the current and emerging needs of students as well as comply with all legal and regulatory requirements. Providing a strong organizational framework with clearly defined policies that support well-articulated goals will enable boards to provide effectively for the needs of all stakeholders in the educational process.
The board is accountable to the community it serves. Therefore, the board must oversee the continuous assessment of all conditions affecting education. Strong boards utilize as much data as possible to determine the effectiveness of school programs and initiatives. Reports for those responsible for the operations of the school district, surveys from the community, and quantitative test data are some of the ways modern boards can stay informed about the success or failure of educational programs.
Board members should never forget that they were elected by the community as a liaison between the education system and the community they serve. In this manner board members must act as owner-representatives of the education system while maintaining the role of servant-leader to those in the community. A primary method to do this is to consistently question whether or not decisions benefit students. When faced with political convenience over what is best for students, board members and educators must always ethically do what is best for kids.
Given the current difficulties facing boards across the nation, it is incumbent upon board members to garner as much training and to take advantage of as many long-range development opportunities as possible. To fail to do so is to fail the public which elected them and the students in their charge.
National School Boards Association (2007) Board Development. Washington. D.C. Downloaded on October 15, 2007 from http://www.nsba.org/sbot/toolkit/BrdDev.html .