Board governance, the focus of the February issue of ASBJ, is the chief work of school board members. When candidates run for school board, they often hold misconceptions about what school boards actually do. Certainly, we’ve seen misunderstandings about board governance among our own communities and constituents.

New board members and community members need to know that local school board members play a crucial role in the leadership and governance of schools. They are responsible for making policy decisions, allocating budgets, and overseeing the overall direction of the school district. Effective board members collaborate with educators, parents, and the community to ensure the best possible education for students.

The leadership that we learn about through books, media, and our own observations tends to be a solo kind of leadership, where a single person then makes a decision (think Captain Kirk or Captain Picard). But the board’s decision-making authority comes from the entire group. No single board member holds any power.

Effectively making decisions as a group takes training and practice. It involves collaboration and consensus building. Professional development for local school board members often focuses on how to work and make decisions as a group. This may include workshops on strategic planning, effective communication, conflict resolution, and staying informed about education trends. Continuous learning ensures that board members can make informed decisions and contribute positively to the governance of their school district.

Local school board governance involves setting policies, making strategic decisions, and overseeing the administration of schools within a district. Board members collaborate to establish educational goals, allocate resources, and ensure accountability.

An important part of board governance is the role of advocacy. When you are a school board member, you become an advocate. You are an advocate for your schools, school district, students—and for public education. 

Local school boards often engage in advocacy for public schools by actively promoting the importance of public education. This may involve collaborating with community leaders, attending public forums, and communicating with policymakers to address funding needs, educational policies, and the overall well-being of the public school system. Advocacy efforts by school boards help raise awareness and support for the vital role of public education in the community.

Local school board members often serve as the primary advocates for public schools within their communities. They communicate the needs and successes of the education system, building support among community members, and engaging with policymakers to ensure that public schools receive the necessary resources and attention.

NSBA is holding its Advocacy Institute Jan. 28-30, in Washington, D.C., for school board members to learn more about how to be effective advocates for their schools at the federal level. You also can find out more at your state association advocacy sessions, which focus on work at the state and local levels.

Whether you just took your oath of office, you’re a board veteran, or are somewhere in between, learning more about board governance and your advocacy role will help your district and your students. Research shows that good governance leads to higher achievement for students. The more you learn, the more you can boost your district, your community, and your students.

Kristi Swett is NSBA’s 2023-24 president and a member of Utah’s Salt Lake City School Board.

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