The role school boards should play

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After my letter to the Optic was published last month, I received requests from friends in Las Vegas asking me to jot down a few thoughts about school boards, their roles and responsibilities. So, here goes.

Fundamentally, school boards focus on vision, goals, and policy — the end results of program implementation. They are responsible for the What? Why? How Well? and How Much? Superintendents on the other hand pay attention to the means by which that vision, those goals and the policy are achieved — the plans, objectives, and actions — and the day-to-day operation of the school. Superintendents are responsible for the How? When? Where? By Whom?

School boards ensure that alignment occurs between their stated end results and the way the administration has set up a plan to reach them. They check for continuous progress, they ensure that the appropriate resources are in place to reach their goals, and they monitor the fiscal health of the district. They also act on recommendations of the superintendent relative to personnel issues.

Serving as a school board member is a daunting task. First, that member has to convince the electorate that he or she will serve in their best interest. Secondly, because school board members are by and large not trained educators, they have to rely on their superintendent to help them quickly acquire a basic understanding of school law, curricular and pedagogical (learning and teaching) theory, evaluation procedures, and criteria for textbook review and the adoption processes. Further, they need to learn the legal and social aspects of personnel management, how to prepare and read budgets, review procurement procedures, and how to fulfill their role as lobbyists in Santa Fe.

Additionally, they need to understand federal granted programs and their specific implementation criteria, nutrition guidelines, and state and federal regulations governing early childhood, special education and English as a second language programs. Finally, they need to be knowledgable of bussing regulations, building construction and maintenance issues, enrollment data management, dropout prevention studies, average yearly progress measures, and when and how to float school bonds.

And, school board members need to know all of these well enough to develop policy, make recommendations, confront fiscal and educational challenges, and establish a common vision, goals, and policy all the while working collegially with fellow board members and the administration.

In short, school boards were not elected to run a school district; the members are in their positions to see to it that school districts are run well.

Phillip C. Gonzales
Johnson City, TN