Your First 90 Days on the School Board

By Del Stover

John Pennycuff tells the story of a new school board member who, at the very first meeting after taking office, introduced a handful of motions without warning the rest of the board.

All went down in defeat.

“It was well-intentioned,” says Pennycuff, a 20-year board veteran in Ohio’s Winston Woods City School District. “The new member was just trying to hit the ground running.”

But, as one board member advised this overeager colleague, “This might be a good idea, but you should have worked with me before tonight.”

It was a rookie mistake that underscores the challenge confronting thousands of newly elected and appointed school board members: Just how do you “hit the ground running” and become as effective as you can, as quickly as you can?

Talk to board members -- both veterans and those still relatively new to the job -- and you’ll hear a variety of opinions. Still, most agree that you can make a good start in your first 90 days.

That’s when, they say, you lay the groundwork for effective board tenure. It’s when you study the budget in depth, become better acquainted with the senior administration, and brush up on board policies and parliamentary procedures. It’s also a good time to dig deeper into issues expected to come before the board in the months ahead.

Yet other tasks should be tackled as well, including building a good working relationship with board colleagues, studying how other members conduct their business, and developing a better understanding of your role. Each is critical to your success, but often they deserve more attention than they receive.

In short, you need to become a quick student of the art of “boardsmanship.”

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