Data-Driven School Governance

Like many new school board members, Mark Sasfy admits that he didn’t know what he was getting himself into after he was elected. “Now the campaign was over. I had won, but I did not fully grasp what it meant to be a school board member,” Sasfy writes in “Welcome to the board” on page 20. “All who want to serve on the board believe they can benefit their district, but my lack of understanding meant that my initial experience was not that enjoyable or productive.” Helping you understand your role as a new board member is the focus of ASBJ’s annual New Board Member and Administrator Guide, one of many tools available from the National School Boards Association in assisting your work for local school governance. After reading the stories in this year’s edition, take a moment and go to, where you will find excellent advice and words of wisdom published in previous years.”

And if you don’t have it already through your state association, pick up a copy of Becoming a Better Board Member, NSBA’s guide to effective school board service. The 328-page manual breaks down the school board member’s work into 17 chapters, looking at your role as a decision-maker, how to select and evaluate the superintendent, and how you can deal with issues such as collective bargaining, school finance, curriculum, communications, and the political process.

“Just as there is no one description that fits all boards in all communities, so there is no one prescription for carrying out the duties of the school board,” the introduction notes. “Individual board members must make a commitment to increase their knowledge and understanding of public education and school governance and sharpen their leadership skills.”

By taking the time to read ASBJ, you are fulfilling one portion of that commitment and -- we hope -- learning more about leadership. Enjoy this year’s guide, read previous editions, and use the advice and knowledge you gain from them to improve achievement in your district.

By Del Stover

An assistant superintendent wraps up a lengthy, data-filled presentation at your monthly board meeting and, quite frankly, you’re relieved when she’s finished. She threw too much information at you and, after 45 minutes, it was becoming increasingly difficult to focus on what she was saying.

While you’re relieved, you’re also frustrated. A lot of the data didn’t mean that much to you, other than to confirm what you already knew -- that some of your students aren’t doing well on state test scores. And her report offered no clue as to what your school board can do to support future academic gains.

So what good was all of that data?

You aren’t the first to ask that question. For all of the talk of data-driven decision-making, many new board members -- and quite a few board veterans -- struggle to make good use of the data available to them. That’s particularly true when looking at data focused on instruction and student achievement. It’s easy enough to look at overall test scores, for example, to learn if district students are reading at grade level. But it’s not so easy to “drill down” into the data and identify exactly why some students are struggling.

It’s even harder to use data to guide your school board in finding the best solutions to improve classroom instruction.

That has to change. Data is a powerful tool for school boards, says Katheryn Gemberling, a nationally known consultant on data-driven leadership and retired deputy superintendent of Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools. “It’s really important to understand exactly what data you need as a board -- and how you can use that data well.”

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