Creating Professional Development Sessions for School Boards

American school boards are central to the successful operation of their school districts, but why are so many of them poorly trained and what can be done about this? Before we delve into this question, let’s discuss what a school board is and how it operates.

What is a local school board, and what does it do?

A school board is an administrative body that is responsible for the oversight of its school district, interpreting state regulations and setting similar policies for its district while creating strategic plans for the advancement of education in its district. The local school board represents the state in educational matters as well as advocates for the concerns and rights of the local citizenry.

Local school boards are also directly responsible for hiring school personnel, implementing programs, and evaluating the overall effectiveness of staff performance. They approve final budgets as well as the purchase of capital items. Furthermore, they are charged with the task of informing the public about issues and events that impact schools. Some local school boards even have the authority to increase their revenues by raising the taxes of the residents in their district.

Why are many school boards poorly trained?

As laid out by state law, members of the local school board are typically elected, although they can also be appointed by the mayor or a combination of both. Any interested adult can serve on a local school board: specific educational background or expertise is not a requirement.

Once appointed, members receive an orientation that usually amounts to one or two training sessions. Even if the training sessions were well constructed, members walk away thinking that they understand the PreK-12 education system and all of its nuances, but they do not. It takes most educators 10 years of in-service experience and an advanced degree to truly understand the complexities of the American education system. So why do we think a couple of training sessions will help school board members come up to speed?

Because of our inability to properly train school board members, our students suffer. Our schools are being micromanaged by incompetent school board members who interfere in educational matters best left to the discretion of the professional educators they have themselves hired. Due to a lack of training, their actions tend to be ineffective and hamper the educational progress of the schools and pupils under the board’s charge.

How should we prepare school board members?

The process of training school board members to serve is not as complicated as it seems. The effort school should be spearheaded by the school superintendent, even though the bulk of the work will be done by the director of professional learning and their staff. Here are the steps that you should follow.

  1. Form a committee that consists of the superintendent, one or more school board members, the director of professional learning, an education leader, and a teacher.
  2. Once you have a committee in place, set up a series of meetings that are meant to develop a professional development plan for school board members. My suggestion is that the curriculum should focus on essential skills, framed by critical questions. For example: How do school boards align mission and goals? How do they lead for performance and results? How do they strengthen governance capacity? Make sure that you develop a plan that provisions for the orientation and continuing education of board members.
  3. After the professional development plan is created, have it approved by the school board and then get to work. Now the orientation and continuing education experience will be uniform for all board members you can be sure that they are prepared to lead your school district.

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