The Path to School Board Effectiveness (Part IV)

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 focused governance and community outreach and inreach.


This week, in our final post in the series, we’ll examine how school boards can evaluate just how effective they really are.


Evaluating Effective Practices


At the lowest level of democracy, school boards are the government body closest to the public. Every American has exposure to the American system of public education in some way, be it a student, parent, or taxpayer. Nevertheless, participation in school board elections is low. Education is the most expensive portion of state and local taxes, but few Americans understand how schools are governed or how they function. This is concerning. School boards retain a great deal of authority, especially in rural areas where schools are likely to be one of the most important employers in the area and are a key driver of local economic success.


The joint nature of authority and public apathy means there is an even greater need for school boards to be effective. Perhaps the most well-known set of strategies for building effective school board practices is The Key Work of School Boards published by the National Association of School Boards (NSBA). The key work includes five subject areas:


  1. Vision: Effective school boards establish a clear vision with high expectations for quality teaching and learning that supports strong student outcomes. They establish clear and specific goals to move districts forward.

  2. Accountability: High academic standards, transparency, and accountability undergird a world‐class education. True accountability depends on open decision-making, community engagement and support, and receptivity to new ideas and constructive criticism.

  3. Policy and Board Operations: Policy is how a board sustainably exercises power to serve students. Through policy, school boards establish a set of cohesive guidelines able to transform vision into reality.

  4. Community Leadership: Through public advocacy and community engagement, school boards share their concerns and actions with the public. Community leadership that builds public support is vital to implement the board’s vision.

  5. Board/Superintendent Relationships: Both the school board and the superintendent have essential leadership roles that are interconnected but different. Effective school boards lead as a united team with the superintendent, each in their respective roles with strong collaboration and mutual trust.

The research in our previous posts in this series supports The Key Work of School Boards. What’s more, when school board members with at least five years of experience adhere to NSBA’s recommendations, student achievement increases.


There are myriad reasons a school board can succumb to conflict and fail, including making decisions through politics or personal agendas, ignoring agendas and ground rules, responding to coercion, remaining unconnected or hostile toward their community, ignoring opportunities for professional development, or 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.”


To take another step forward in your district’s goal of excellence, 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 Work 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 info@schoolperceptions.com 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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