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The Path to School Board Effectiveness (Part I)

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

In a series of blog posts, School Perceptions will look at what, exactly, makes a school board effective.

Across the country, local school boards comprise elected, nonpartisan representatives.

Certainly, state and federal mandates shape K12 education, but the management and governance of the day-to-day learning environment remain with school board members.

School boards share both duties and powers in this collective role, ranging from management and supervision of the school district to employment directives for teachers and staff, along with decisions that directly impact students, including discipline plans and transportation. In Wisconsin specifically, school boards have assumed even greater powers since the implementation of Act 10 in 2011.

School boards also have the “power of the purse.” Public education is the most expensive state and local government expenditure, totaling $650 from the two revenue sources and excluding federal contributions. The average school district in the U.S. levies nearly $20 million locally, accounting for about 41 percent of districts’ total revenue. In Wisconsin, these figures are at $14 million and 47 percent, respectively.

School boards do not “create learning.” Instead, they do their work via employees by creating conditions that promote learning for children. Despite this degree of separation, the actions and practices of and relationships among school board members do, indeed, impact student achievement—for better and worse.

So what makes boards effective?

School boards can improve their effectiveness by focusing on four categories. Recommendations to improve each category’s effectiveness are developed by comparing high-achieving and low-achieving school districts with similar student populations.

School boards that are effective and improve student achievement focus on the following areas:

  • Goal setting

  • Training and professional development

  • Focused governance

  • Community outreach and inreach

There are many reasons school boards fail to achieve effectiveness—everything from making decisions through politics or personal agendas, ignoring meeting agendas and ground rules, responding to coercion, remaining unconnected or hostile toward their community, ignoring opportunities for professional development, and taking disunited actions without attention to a learning-centered goal.

But people who choose to spend their weeknights working through school district governance are largely doing it for the right reasons. Over 80 percent of community members who win school board seats do so to give back to their community. However, this good-hearted nature does not preclude members from having a willingness to look into the mirror. “Excellence in the boardroom is the first step to excellent achievement in your schools.”

In our upcoming blog posts in this series, we will take a closer look at the elements that effective school boards use. In the meantime, we recommend taking a closer look at the

School Perceptions Annual Board Development Tool, a yearly inventory that assesses school board members’ beliefs about and adherence to measures related to The Key Works of School Boards.

The Annual Board Development Tool is updated, improved, and free for all Wisconsin school districts. Developed in partnership between School Perceptions and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, the tool is designed to help you:

  • Quickly discern where your board is aligned and where additional dialogue is needed.

  • Educate new board members regarding the scope of their powers and responsibilities.

  • Build trust and credibility with the community.

To learn more about the Annual Board Development Tool, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at or 262.644.4300.


The School Perceptions Blog and Resource Center features the voices of our team members. This post was written by Rob DeMeuse, Project Manager & Strategic Communications Specialist.


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