The National School Boards Association states that the fundamental role of school boards is “to work with their communities to improve student achievement in their local public schools.” This role seems self-evident, as the entire educational system is committed to the academic advancement of students, yet the critical impact that school boards can have on educational outcomes should not be overlooked. With a review of 27 studies focusing on leadership and student performance, researchers from McREL International, a nonprofit education research and development organization, found a positive correlation between student achievement and board alignment and support of district goals. Understanding your school board’s role in creating the conditions necessary for student achievement is essential in collaborating with them effectively to attain the highest in academic standards. What follows are three critical areas in which your school board can positively impact student achievement.
#1 – School Boards Develop the Educational Vision for the District.
According to Jonathan Supovitz, director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education and professor at the Penn Graduate School of Education, the essential role of district leadership is in “developing, communicating, and supporting a coherent vision of effective instruction.” To improve student performance on the aggregate, school districts need the oversight and assessment of leaders committed to analyzing performance, assessing progress against benchmarks, and devising proven strategies to meet desired outcomes. While these efforts are completed on the micro level by teachers in the classroom, school boards as overarching districtwide governing bodies are tasked with conducting this level of goal-setting on the aggregate. There are two fundamental components of a school board’s format that enables them to be successful in creating a vision for the district: their ability to collaborate with districtwide stakeholders and their ability to focus exclusively on policy and strategy rather than administrative tasks.
School boards are uniquely positioned to benefit from the collaborative opinions and voices of school leaders, teachers, parents, and staff members in their data gathering and decision-making processes. By obtaining feedback and holding dialogue with a variety of stakeholders, school boards can achieve higher levels of influencer buy-in and ensure their priorities reflect the needs of the entire district. Principals and even superintendents do not always benefit from such access to key stakeholders, which makes school boards better able to aggregate feedback and ideas and make decisions more quickly. Also, while principals and superintendents are strategic leaders, they must balance strategy and vision with day-to-day responsibilities, whether it be staff development, community and parent communications, and student discipline issues. School boards, contrarily, can give their sole focus to vision-based priorities.
#2 – School Boards Establish and Prioritize the Strategies for Achieving The District’s Educational Vision.
Having a vision for the school district is not enough. Once a school board assesses the district’s opportunities for success and outlines an ideal roadmap for student performance, they are responsible for identifying and championing the strategies needed for their vision to become a reality. A designated leadership body must be accountable for carrying out the steps necessary to achieve goals and to close opportunity and achievement gaps, and school boards are uniquely positioned to be the leading force behind such efforts. With collaborative input from key stakeholders, school boards have access to the insights needed to generate creative strategies to make progress toward improved student achievement, and they have the necessary bandwidth to form subcommittees to carry out tactical execution.
One area where leaders often struggle to remain committed to their overarching goal achievement long term is in committing the time needed to aggregate quantifiable and qualitative data to assess goal performance. Without the ability to identify progress toward goals, it can be easy to lose momentum and refocus too much time on daily tasks and not enough on high-level opportunities. School boards, on the other hand, have the resources and access needed to obtain data, assess performance results, pivot strategies if needed, and refocus on the tactics necessary to improve student performance.
A note about allowing adjustments in goals at the school level: In the pursuit of vision achievement, school boards must accept that individual school district administrators, and classroom instructions must be empowered to tailor strategies and short-term goals to their particular needs. As long as a dedicated focus remains on the overarching goal of student achievement, such modifications can result in greater school leader buy-in and comfort, higher adoption rates, and greater success.
#3 – School Boards Create and Sustain the Conditions that Support Hiring, Retention, and Performance of High-Quality Educators.
Every superintendent and school board member will agree that a keystone in any plan committed to student performance involves the hiring and retention of committed, quality educators. A significant number of strategic initiatives ideated by school boards will rely on execution in the classroom. School boards are empowered to make an impact on the district’s talent strategy, including prioritizing staff needs, identifying and eliminating gaps in staffing effectiveness, assessing teacher performance on aggregate levels, and identifying opportunities to remove barriers toward outcomes that enable teachers to produce higher quality student achievement levels.
To be successful in achieving staffing goals, school boards must commit to the obtainment of data that can be used to inform teaching strategies, learning opportunities, and distribution of student-support resources at the school and district levels. Such assessments should be conducted at least annually. With the input of a variety of stakeholders, school boards are positioned to make informed decisions to eliminate barriers to achievement and take critical steps toward district vision plans.
Behind every successful school district is a visionary and effective school board committed to student achievement. Without the burden of daily administrative tasks, they are uniquely poised to assess academic performance, establish a vision for progress, collaborate on strategies for goal attainment, and maintain a clear commitment to the staffing and developmental requirements needed for success. By embracing the role that your school board plays in your students’ achievements, you best position your district—and your students—for positive educational outcomes.
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