The Attributes of Effective School Boards: Lessons from a Failed Campaign

In 2021, I took a leap of faith and ran for a position on the local school board. Though my campaign was unsuccessful, the experience was enlightening. It gave me a firsthand look at the intricacies of school board operations and the attributes that make some boards more effective than others. Reflecting on that journey, I’d like to share some insights on what makes a school board truly effective, backed by academic research.

1. Clear Vision and Mission

Every successful organization, including school boards, needs a clear vision and mission. This provides direction and purpose, ensuring that all decisions align with the overarching goals of the institution. It’s easy for boards to become reactive rather than proactive without a clear vision.

2. Collaborative Decision-Making

Effective school boards prioritize collaboration. They understand that the best decisions are often made considering diverse perspectives. This means actively seeking input from all stakeholders, including parents, teachers, students, and community members.

3. Focus on Student Achievement

At the heart of every decision should be the question: “How does this impact student achievement?” According to a study titled “School Boards and Student Achievement: The Relationship between Previously Identified School Board Characteristics and Improved Student Learning” by Jonathon P. Holmen, there’s empirical support linking the efficacy of publicly elected school boards to improved student achievement results.

4. Continuous Professional Development

As teachers need ongoing training to stay current, so do school board members. The educational landscape constantly evolves, and board members must have the latest knowledge and best practices to make informed decisions.

5. Strong Leadership

Effective leadership is crucial. This doesn’t mean a single dominant figure but rather a cohesive leadership team that can guide the district towards its goals, manage conflicts, and ensure the board’s operations run smoothly.

6. Accountability and Transparency

Trust is built on transparency. Effective boards are accountable to their stakeholders, regularly updating them on decisions, financial matters, and other pertinent issues. They also have mechanisms in place for feedback and are responsive to concerns raised by the community.

7. Adaptability

The world of education is dynamic. Effective boards are adaptable, whether it’s changes in curriculum standards, technological advancements, or shifts in community demographics. They’re not resistant to change but embrace it as an opportunity for growth.

8. Community Engagement

Lastly, a study titled “Eight Characteristics of Effective School Boards” by Charles Dervarics and E. O’Brien emphasizes the importance of community engagement. Effective boards are deeply rooted in their communities, understanding their unique challenges and strengths and leveraging this knowledge in their decision-making.

In conclusion, while my campaign for the school board may not have been successful, the lessons I learned were invaluable. Effective school boards are the backbone of successful educational institutions, and understanding their attributes is the first step towards building stronger schools for our children.