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What Makes a Great School Board Member?

What makes a school board effective? Learn what qualities to look for in a successful school board member.

By GreatSchools Staff

An effective school board plays an important watchdog role in keeping your local school on track, and setting policies that affect your child and your school. The school board sets the vision and goals for the school district, and holds the district accountable for results. One school board member cannot do the job alone. Effective school board members contribute their unique talents while collaborating and working as a team with other board members.

What Do School Boards Do?

Communities typically elect a school board of three, five or seven trustees to oversee the local school district and make certain the desires of the community are met.

The school board's primary responsibilities are to:

  • Set the vision and goals for the district
  • Adopt policies that give the district direction to set priorities and achieve its goals
  • Hire and evaluate the superintendent
  • Adopt and oversee the annual budget
  • Manage the collective bargaining process for employees of the district

A typical school board meeting will include many business items, such as approving the school calendar, adopting curriculum, overseeing construction, and approving contracts with outside vendors. A successful school board will balance discussion of the seemingly tedious business of running the district while paying close attention to the district's priorities for academic achievement.

School Board Members Who Have Made a Difference

These two school board members, one a leader in a large urban district and the other an integral part of a suburban district board, exemplify how school board members can have an important influence on the direction of their districts.

Electing Effective School Board Members

How can you be sure that the education in your local public schools meets your expectations? A good place to start is by electing effective school board members.

When deciding which candidate to support and vote for, you'll want to attend community candidate forums and ask hard questions. Former, Charlotte Mecklenburg, North Carolina, school board member Arthur Griffin suggests asking the following questions:

For incumbents:

  • What actions have you taken to improve student achievement?

For challengers and incumbents:

  • What are your visions for this school district five to 10 years from now and what systemic changes will you work toward to achieve that vision?
  • What policies would you initiate to improve student achievement?
  • What are the characteristics of a superintendent you most admire?
  • How would you measure success for a superintendent?
  • What level of skills should high school students have upon graduation?

You'll also want to find out if the candidate has good analytical, leadership and collaborative skills to move the district forward. A good candidate does not have a single-issue focus but rather is interested in the success of all students in the district.

Deciding To Run for the School Board

If you have sound judgment, an even temper, a willingness to collaborate and a sincere interest in public education in your community, you might consider running for your local school board. You will need to be 18 years of age, a registered voter, a resident of your district and eligible under the state constitution to run for office.

If mounting your own campaign seems daunting but you are concerned about who is on the board, consider gathering a group of concerned citizens together to seek and support a candidate or candidates who share your vision for the district.

Most importantly, be sure to educate yourself about the issues and encourage others in your community to do the same. And don't forget to vote!

Signs of an Effective School Board Member

Here are signs of a school board member focused on moving the school district forward and educating all students to meet high standards:

  • Great school board members have a clear vision for the district. They set the vision and goals, and measure the success of the district and superintendent against the goals.
  • Great school board members communicate their actions to the community. Through public discourse and written reports, great school board members keep the public informed of the district's progress and challenges.
  • Great school board members work as a team. They collaborate well with others and are respectful of the other board members and superintendent.
  • Great school board members adopt a fiscally sound district budget. They pay attention to finances and regularly monitor the fiscal health of the district.
  • Great school board members focus on what is best for all students. They focus on student achievement and implementing policies that will ensure success for all students.
  • Great school board members advocate at the local, state and national level for public education. They take advantage of opportunities to communicate the needs of public schools to other levels of government and advocate for strong public schools.

Signs of an Ineffective School Board Member

If you notice any of the following signs, it's time to find some new candidates to run for your local board:

  • The school board member continually focuses on one issue or talks aimlessly at meetings.
  • The school board member doesn't conduct him or herself in a respectful, collaborative manner in public.
  • The school board member comes to meetings unprepared.
  • The school board member "rubber stamps" all the superintendent's proposals without asking hard questions.
  • The school board member micromanages rather than focusing attention on district-wide policies.
  • The school board member uses his position on the school board as an opportunity to put forth a political agenda with little relevance to student achievement.


Comments from readers

"Derek King is an outstanding board member on the Victor Valley High School District. I got a chance to talk to him today at a Latina Summit. He gave up his saturday morning to support our young students. He was the only board member to attend. I have heard that he attends most things. The first rule of doing a good job is showing up and Derek King shows up. "
"Is it ok for a school board member/parent to volunteer at their school? "
"it really helped me "
"The job of the school board is to facilitate as an advisory council and to assist the Superintendent in governing the overall affairs of the school district. Each and and every level of their decision making should be child based, child focused and child centered. Anything outside of these areas become egotistic and ego-centered and stray away from their true calling and purpose. The Esquire Abby Phelps"
"Never thought about running for any type of office until my kid's school fell into some very serious financial troubles (10 million in the hole). Town is approximately 5,000 in pop. and small enough that rumors and news travel fast. When the state of Texas sends a conservator to fix the problem by firing 200 employees, you know it's time to do something. Superintendent removed with pay, can't afford to buy out contract. Local news pays attention to all the layoffs but never makes any mention of what it does to the kids or the teachers moral, by-the-way no teacher raises for 3 years. I googled 'what makes a good school board member?' and your site popped up. Thank you for making up my mind just need to figure how to run. "
"In your opinion is a public school board member, while a member of the school board, sent their oldest child to the public school where that child was valevictorian and their younger child to a parochial school three years later, an effective school board member."
"Thank you. I'm running for our local board and I'm preparing for a candidate forum. This site provided much of what I needed to prepare."
"Hello, I am considering running for our local school board this year. This is an excellent article that had important insights and added direction for my campaign. Thank you for this website!"
"If a person fills out a form in a timely manner to get on the agenda of a school board meeting, can they be denied that right? Our school has a policy that the administration has the right to not allow people a place on the agenda. Several teachers and patrons have been denied this right. Is this legal? Doesn't seem fair."
"I thought this was extremely helpful. I am a school board member and it helps to have parameters to guide your progress by. "
"I am running for the school board of Los Banos CA. I have foud this article very informing. In my own case I have a vision that our graduates need enhanced life skills. While we as parents want every child to be a college graduate it is not always the case. I believe we as a nation down through the individual school districts focus to much on assessment, and not enough on achievement. My goal will be incorporate life skills back into education as a meaningful option. We must remember that being a carpenter can lead to great things. Health Happiness & Long Life"
"I found this article to be very true and reinforces what we should already know but should never forget.I am a member of a 5 member school board in a very small suburban district on LI, NY. I forwarded this article to my collegues. We thank you for the wealth of information included here. This is not the first time we have benefited from the information on your site. Please keep this going!"
"Thank you very much for this article. I appreciate the information at this critical time."