You’ve probably heard the phrase countless times. But what is a school board? In the United States, school boards were first created in 1647 when a Massachusetts law, which required cities to establish and maintain schools, was passed. Basically, a school board is a local authority tasked with the provision and maintenance of a school or schools.
If you are like most parents, you may be wondering, What is the purpose of this board? Who are the individuals involved? What impact do they have on my child’s education? Good questions. Thanks for asking! The primary goal of a school board is to improve student achievement. However, since school boards have the power to make many key decisions about curriculum, bus transportation, the hiring of teachers and more, it is essential for school board members to be qualified, experienced, and responsible individuals.
Who is elected to a School Board?
School board members are either elected or appointed, generally every four years, depending on each city or town. Consider the following facts about school board members from the National School Board Association:
- Board members are well educated, with 75% holding a bachelor’s degree or higher.
- Two-thirds of school board members feel there is a serious need to improve student achievement.
- Board members generally describe their political views as ideologically moderate.
- Nearly 100% of all school board members are worried about a too-narrow focus on achievement.
- Less than 20% of board members have ever been associated with a teacher’s union.
It is also important to understand that, in most states, a school district employee cannot be a board member in that district. Additionally, school board members are typically dedicated volunteers — 75% of all board members are unpaid.
What types of decisions are school board members responsible for?
School boards handle many important decisions, including but not limited to:
- Evaluating and implementing policies that affect all schools in the district
- Hiring and evaluating a Superintendent
- Serving as a judicial and appeals body for any unresolved issues
- Monitoring and adjusting finances
- Handling the collective bargaining process in the district
What is the role of the Superintendent?
The Superintendent is the school board’s chief executive. While the school board is responsible for outlining the policies and goals of the school district, the Superintendent is responsible for carrying out the policies and ensuring the goals are met.
The best attributes to look for in school board members
In order to run for the school board, you must be a registered voter, a resident of the district where you are running, and have no criminal record. You must also have a minimum of a high school diploma and not be an employee (or related to a current employee) of the school district in which you wish to run.
The ideal school board candidate should have the following characteristics:
- In-depth knowledge about school district challenges and strengths, policies, guidelines, and basic needs.
- Hard working and willing to put in the necessary hours required each week for phone calls, discussions, meetings, and visits to schools.
- Strong desire to foster a healthy relationship between the public and the district.
- The ability to cater to the needs of all students, regardless of their abilities or backgrounds.
- A respectful and professional attitude toward the public, fellow board members, and the student body.
The best way to understand what a school board does is to attend your district’s next school board meeting. You can start by calling your district and finding out when the next board meeting is scheduled, or visiting your child's school website.