The Local School Board and the New Realities
The National School Boards Association adopted the following statement on the role of local school boards in January, 1992. The Kansas Association of School Boards endorsed this statement five months later. It is intended to provide the framework for school board leadership, education programs and services.
The mission of the public school is to educate each and every child to the fullest of his or her potential. This mission can be achieved only in the context of the new realities of our society and the world at large. In our times of social, economic, technological and geopolitical turbulence, the local school board’s responsibility is greater than ever. But school boards are determined to meet this daunting obligation and fulfill the mission of public education.
The local school board, an integral part of the American institution of representative governance, acts on behalf of the people of each community across our nation to translate this education mission into reality. A four-fold thrust for leadership by local school boards will ensure excellence and equity in the public schools and is pivotal in keeping America free and first among the nations of the world as the 21st century unfolds.
The Local School Board - An Overview
School boards share the responsibility for school governance with other elected officials of the state and national government and with the people as electors. The Kansas Constitution makes education a state responsibility while at the same time providing for the operation of public schools by local school boards elected by citizens of the school district. A little over 2,000 dedicated men and women guide a public school system that employs more than 50,000 people and serves nearly half a million children. Board members receive no pay for their service, only the satisfaction that comes from providing an indispensable public service.
What Does a School Board Do?
Boards of education have several functions, including establishing the vision for the district, setting goals, establishing policies for a school system, hiring and evaluating the superintendent of schools, holding the superintendent accountable for accomplishing district goals and helping build support for public education.
Setting a vision is not just another way of saying “goal setting” or “long-range planning.” The word comes from the Latin videre, which means “to see,” and a vision for a school district should, in fact, give people another way to see their schools, clearly showing the district not only as it is, but also what it might become.
As a school board member, you will have a central role in defining your district’s vision, but yours should not be the only viewpoint considered. Teachers, administrators, community members and students are more likely to support the board’s vision if they feel they have played a part in developing it.
The process of creating a vision involves making choices, not only about where the district is headed, but also about how it will get there. For this reason, establishing a vision may be the most difficult responsibility that any school board faces. But it is also perhaps the most important.
Specific responsibilities for school board members include:
- Keeping students as the focus of the work of schools.
- Adopting a shared vision based on community beliefs to guide local education.
- Demonstrating a strong commitment to the shared vision and mission by using them to guide decision-making and communicating them to others.
To achieve its vision, a board must establish a structure and create an environment that will ensure for all students the opportunity to attain their maximum potential. Vision alone is not enough. The board must also put in place an organizational framework that can allow the district to achieve its vision.
School boards are responsible for providing a planning, policy and management structure that can move the district toward its vision. The infrastructure the board creates reflects local circumstances. It begins by employing a superintendent, adopting missions and goals in harmony with its vision through a strategic planning process, developing and approving policies, formulating budgets and setting high instructional standards for students and staff. The board must also create an environment in the school system that encourages innovation and supports staff members in a process of continuous renewal of education.
Specific responsibilities for school board members include:
- Employing a superintendent and establishing a district management system that enables all people to contribute meaningfully to achieve the district’s vision;
- Establishing direct processes to use information and make effective decisions;
- Ensuring long- and short-term plans are developed and annually revised through a process involving extensive participation, information gathering, research and reflection;
- Supporting student learning and school renewal when reviewing and adopting policies and allocating resources;
- Setting high instructional standards based on the best available information of the knowledge and skills students will need in the future; and
- Encouraging an environment conducive to innovative approaches to teaching and learning and supportive of continuous improvement in education.
The genius of America’s system of local control of education is local boards are directly accountable to the communities they serve. Effective boards engage in continuous assessment of all the conditions affecting education.
These should include:
- Monitoring student achievement;
- Using student achievement data and all other available information as a basis for making program corrections and modifications as needed;
- Keeping the public informed on the status of the district’s programs and students’ progress;
- Ensuring all functions of schools as institutions of teaching and learning fit together harmoniously;
- Providing appropriate staff and board training opportunities;
- Encouraging curricular and assessment innovation; and
- Fulfilling governance responsibilities as required by state and federal law.
A comprehensive accountability system can improve the effectiveness of schools by keeping the primary focus on student achievement and on what can and should be done to improve that achievement.
- Specific responsibilities for school boards include:
- Receiving regular reports on student progress and needs based on a variety of assessments in order to evaluate the quality and equity of education in the district;
- Evaluating both superintendent and board performance;
- Evaluating progress toward the achievement of district long- and short-term goals and ensuring policies and allocation of resources effectively support the district vision; and
- Reporting district progress to the community and parents on a regular basis.
School boards ought to serve as the leading advocate on behalf of students and schools in the community. Both individually and collectively, school board members need to speak out on issues that can advance the community’s vision for its schools. They must keep the vision visible and vital for the community and for other organizations that serve the needs of children.
In a time when children come to school with more problems than ever before, schools must acknowledge they cannot meet all these needs alone. Instead, they collaborate with families, community organizations and other public and private agencies to benefit both the children and the community they serve.
As a result, the advocacy role is becoming increasingly important for school board members. Informing citizens about the schools’ accomplishments, problems and needs is an essential part of school board leadership. Through their actions, board members represent the community and help foster understanding and support for the schools.
Specific responsibilities for school boards include:
- Seeing others who can help expand educational opportunities to meet the needs of the whole child;
- Advocating for children and families and establishing strong relationships with parents and other mentors to help support students;
- Promoting the schools’ instructional and other programs;
- Leading in celebrating the achievements of students and others in education; and
- Promoting school board service as a meaningful way to make long-term contributions to society.
These responsibilities mean school boards cannot be isolated institutions. They must bring together the entire community (parents, community groups and others concerned about schooling) in effective and responsible ways to initiate and sustain lasting improvement of the schools.