During my tenure as a school board member, I have been met with surprise when people learned that the school district does not employ me, I do not manage or supervise district leaders or employees, and I am not paid for my service. Given that many individuals are unclear about school board members’ roles and responsibilities, I was not completely surprised, for example, when a homeowner expected me to use my position to contact city officials regarding neglected, unoccupied residential rental property in my neighborhood.

This makes me wonder what our students understand about governance, especially local school board governance. If we help students understand how government entities are organized and run and how each member plays a role at all levels of government, we’ve taught an important civics lesson.

In the broadest sense, governance is about the principles and institutional environments in which members and stakeholders interact and participate in affairs that affect all their members. These entities are made up of elected community members. School board members are essentially “trustees,” elected by their neighbors to serve their community and represent the best interests of their children and families.

From my years of experience on my local board, service on my state association board, and at NSBA, I believe there are several basic considerations for effective, fair, and good governance.

First, the board defines and communicates its purpose to steer the organization in the direction expected by its community. This is done through strategic learning and goal-setting processes that incorporate both long- and short-term goals. Consistent management, cohesive policies, guidance, processes, oversight, accountability, and financial stability are essential to accomplish the strategic direction and goals enumerated.

Second, the board engages, listens, communicates, and responds to its community. Most recently, the pandemic and virtual environments caused boards to adopt new and creative ways to do this more effectively, fairly, and practically. Through this engagement, the board defines its purpose and mission.

Another essential responsibility of a board is hiring a leader or superintendent at the local level or an executive director at a state or national school boards association. The board’s relationship with its selected leader involves clearly defining roles, responsibilities, and expectations strategically aligned with the organization’s purpose.

Although the board delegates authority to the leader, it maintains, monitors, and oversees the leader’s performance and progress made toward goals and expectations. These expectations, including the allocation of resources, operated under government or other regulations, and the board’s delegation and monitoring, advance sound policies that support the board’s goals and mission.

How the board conducts itself is imperative for effective and efficient governance. Whole board team development strengthens and builds trust and confidence in the board’s work. The board sets its expectations for its work, activities, and progress through its plan for development and growth. This often involves working with lawmakers in developing or adopting policies that facilitate the organization’s work and remove restrictions that may impede progress toward those goals.

As some communities’ measures of good, effective, and efficient governance have become more controversial and at times political, it is important that constituents, including students, better understand governance, and continue to exercise their civic rights and their role as decision-makers in these systems of socio-political management we have come to know.

Viola Garcia, NSBA’s 2021-22 president, is a member of Texas’ Aldine Independent School District Board of Trustees.


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