The School Board Chair's Role

By Doug Eadie

“To tell the truth, Doug, other than going over the agenda with the superintendent and chairing our monthly board meeting, I’m pretty clueless about what I’m supposed to be doing as president of our school board. I occasionally get calls from the reporter who covers the education scene, but I routinely forward these to the superintendent’s office. Not a very demanding or important role, is it?”

If you’re the chair of your school board, you can probably relate to this excerpt from a recorded interview I conducted to prepare for a board-superintendent retreat. It’s typical of what I’ve heard from dozens of board presidents during my quarter-century of work as a governance consultant.

Experience has taught me that many, if not most, school board chairs don’t come close to realizing the tremendous leadership potential of the position. I’m not 100 percent sure why, but I’ll venture an educated guess that two major factors have stood in the way of school board chairs becoming high-impact leaders in their districts.

For one thing, traditionally very little attention has been paid in the governance literature to the role of the school board chair, beyond pointing out that the chair is responsible for overseeing the board’s deliberations, while the superintendent is responsible for all internal operations of the district. Another reason for the prevalence of low-impact school board chairs is probably the resistance (perhaps often unconscious) of superintendents to beefing up a potentially competitive position.

Based on my work with a number of high-impact board chairs over the years, I’ve concluded that there are three keys to playing the kind of board chair role that not only makes a significant difference, leaving a distinct imprint on district affairs, but is also deeply rewarding and satisfying.

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