No school board can go it alone in accomplishing its complex and demanding governing work. The indispensable foundation for high-impact governing is a working partnership between the board and the superintendent that is close, positive, productive, and solid. One key to keeping the relationship healthy is for your school board to play an active role in overseeing the performance of the superintendent as your district’s chief executive officer (CEO).
The Voice of the People
Even as the nation struggles to advance democracy abroad, there is growing sentiment that school improvement is hampered by an excess of democracy at home. Appalled by our inability to significantly improve urban schools, prominent professors and policy makers have suggested that—at least in urban districts—we replace locally elected school boards with boards appointed by state officials or the mayor.
It's All About Policy
The path to traditional school board governance can be strewn with roadblocks and detours. I should know—I’ve been there. In the span of a single year, our nine-member board saw 19 board members and four different presidents. As you might imagine, precious little school board governance or deliberation over student achievement was accomplished during those 12 months. Our board survivors and newcomers turned to the comprehensive school board development program offered by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards for help.
School boards in the United States have come under increased scrutiny over the past decade, but the pace of change is nothing compared to what has taken place in Canada, where the number of school boards has been radically reduced over the past seven years. This has left Canada’s school governance with many challenges and left the future of our country’s school boards at a crossroads.
Role Models for Achievement
Across the country, school boards and educators are embarking on dramatic efforts to improve student learning. The heart of these efforts comes within the school system, through standards, assessments, professional development, and other initiatives. But community support and understanding are pivotal to the success of these efforts. How can your board engage the community around school improvement efforts?
The Student's Voice
Many student board members serve in an advisory capacity, with their roles limited to providing reports on special events and day-to-day activities at their school. Although an increasing number of boards recognize the importance of having student representatives, few are in favor of giving students the right to vote on budget issues, student discipline decisions, or personnel matters. Many board members question whether students are mature enough to make proper decisions on personnel and finances. Liability also is an issue.
Life on a School Board: Challenges, criticism, praise, and fragile peace—it's all in a day's work.
What is the state of school board life today? Is it really more exhausting and challenging than it once was? As public education has changed, life on a school board has undeniably become more complex and more strained. This is not exactly news. What is news is that for the first time, more board members are joining teachers and administrators in viewing their jobs as more personally challenging than ever before.