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The Path to School Board Effectiveness (Part III)

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

Our previous post—which you can find here—discussed how school boards could improve their effectiveness via goal setting and training and professional development.

This week, we focus on the final two categories of school board effectiveness: focused governance and community outreach and inreach.

Focused Governance

By focusing on student achievement for all students, boards in high-achieving districts waste less time on day-to-day operational issues that are better handled by the superintendent and other school-level administrators. This achievement focus—and the professional development that helps shape it—avoids administrator micromanagement, shuns negative conflict between administrators and board members, maintains established chains of command, focuses meetings on agenda items, and safeguards the administrative roles of superintendents and principals from the governance roles of the school board. In essence, school board members should say, “These are the results we want to see. You are in charge of how to do it.”

The school board should remain in contact most frequently with the superintendent, who serves as the district's chief executive officer. Effective boards require and receive frequent goal-related updates and progress reports from their superintendent. This relationship is particularly important to cultivate because when the connection is strong and built upon trust and collaboration, dropout rates decrease, college-bound students increase, and test scores rise.

Some researchers argue that the greatest power of school boards is the supervision and evaluation of the superintendent, which, in effect, sets the tone for the entire district. Effective school boards see themselves united as a team with the superintendent but, after clear and directed communication, trust the individual to execute the actions and policies the board institutes.

“As a team” is a critical caveat here. Board members who attempt to form one-on-one relationships with the superintendent may be using that relationship as a substitute for working relationships with their fellow members. In other words, a board member may be trying to “get the superintendent on their side.” This situation may, indeed, result in a strong board member-superintendent relationship but at the expense of a strong board-superintendent relationship.

Board members overseeing high-achieving districts build positive working relationships with the superintendent, administrators, and teachers through channels of respect, collegiality, and a shared commitment to students’ success. Taken together, school boards who receive professional development and training tend to have improved relationships with their superintendents and between/among one another. In turn, board and superintendent tenures lengthen, which is tied to improved district and student achievement.

Community Outreach and Inreach

Effective school boards in high-achieving districts maintain positive relationships with school employees and undertake collaborative relationships with community members as well, all while avoiding special interest groups. A board communication process keeps the community abreast regarding efforts to achieve student achievement goals.

However, board communications are a two-way street. Effective school boards proactively gather information pertinent to their governance from sources including the superintendent, the curriculum director, principals, teachers, and community sources external to the district. Once gathered, information is shared among all board members without jockeying for power. In addition, effective governance requires balancing the recognition and mitigation of citizens’ concerns while remaining positive and supportive of the district they represent. School board members in high-achieving districts should be able to easily provide specific, concrete examples of how their body connected with and listened to the community they represent, just as they should with goal articulation.

Next week, in the final post in the series, we will offer tools that school boards can use to assess their effectiveness.

In the meantime, we recommend taking a closer look at the School Perceptions Annual Board Development Tool. This yearly inventory 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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