Board of Education

The Key Work of School Boards:
A Framework for Effective School Governance

The National School Board Association’s Key Work model focuses on five areas that provide a comprehensive overview of a school board’s critical governance responsibilities.

Vision: Effective school boards establish a clear vision and set high expectations for teaching and learning in a manner that supports strong student outcomes. The leadership team’s vision supports and guides the development of a strategic plan and district goals. Effective boards formulate budgets and allocate resources in a manner that is aligned with the district’s vision, strategic priorities, and goals.

Accountability: Accountability means measuring and judging how well the district is putting the vision into practice and making progress on key goals. Accountability starts with:

  1. the adoption of goals and academic and other standards, and
  2. the assignment of responsibility and authority.

Data and other assessments are used as a tool. Success is acknowledged and rewarded, while any lack of success drives change and improvement efforts. School boards and individual board members also must be accountable, including by modeling desired behaviors and by establishing standards for and evaluating the board’s own internal operations and performance.

Policy: By establishing policies, a school board exercises its collective authority in order to serve students and achieve goals. Policies translate the board’s vision into action and should be closely linked to (and sometimes directly establish) accountability structures and processes. While many policies are written statements that establish and provide direction for staff, students, programs, and operations, the school district budget can be viewed as one type of policy decision. The scope and substance of a board’s policies also reflect and contribute to the ongoing evolution of the board-administrator relationship, including by embodying an understanding of the respective roles of the members of the leadership team.

The Board-Administrator Relationship: Research has shown that the board-administrator relationship is critical to the success of a school district. Both the school board and the superintendent have essential leadership roles that are interconnected but different. In simplistic terms, and keeping in mind that close collaboration is needed, the school board has the final authority to determine what needs to happen, and the district administrator and staff are given a degree of leeway to determine how to make it happen. In order for the members of the leadership team to have a productive relationship that promotes public confidence in the school district, each individual member of the team must understand the unique roles and responsibilities of their position. Shared goals and clear policies can help to define roles and build a strong, collaborative relationship. In nearly all districts, issues will arise that will cause the leadership team to discuss and recalibrate their mutual understandings of their respective roles. However, effective leadership teams are consistently professional, fair and objective, honest and open, team-oriented, prepared, and Respectful.

Community Leadership and Advocacy: Community leadership is demonstrated when a school board and its members act as ambassadors and advocates for district interests. Effective school boards engage the community in an ongoing conversation that is composed of a variety of communication channels and opportunities for participation and interaction. A school district’s public advocacy and community engagement initiatives can provide both formal and informal opportunities to identify and discuss information, ideas, needs, and challenges with a variety of stakeholders. School boards also have to forge relationships and work closely with legislators on legislative proposals that affect education, school funding, and a variety of other issues. School board members have a prominent role to play in telling their school district’s story and in listening to stakeholders. Such communication can help to build support for the district and its students.

More detailed information on the leadership role of school boards and individual board members, as well as information on their powers, duties, and authority is available from the WI Association of School Boards.