School Board Governance Model

Lena Eisenstein

In this article, you will learn:

  • The main governance models that school boards follow, and why they use them

  • Why a policy-based governance model is effective for decision-making

  • The core tools and practices needed for effective school board governance

As the key figures charged with governing the local school district, each school board is entrusted with a great responsibility within the community. Holding to a school board governance model supports the board in effectively and efficiently carrying out their duties.

For public governing bodies, governance refers to processes of regulation, organization and management. This means school boards function very differently than those in the corporate or non-profit sectors.

It is important to note that school boards are designed to be governing boards, not management boards. Although school boards provide oversight in the management of the superintendent, the school board's goal is to serve as reflective representatives of the public's interest.

School boards also function under various federal statutes, state laws, administrative codes and local policies. These laws and policies govern the work of the school board. It is imperative that school boards stay abreast of these policies and regulations and how they may impact the school board's actions.

School Board Governance Models

School board governance is seen as a unique system or form of ownership, rather than a way of management. The school board is more connected with the needs of their constituents, the general public. Meaning, the school board does not exist to run the local public school system, but to govern the individuals that do.

The school board provides limits or margins of acceptability, within which the superintendent and staff are permitted autonomy. This provides the opportunity for imagination and innovation. Meaning, the school board tells the superintendent how not to operate rather than how to operate.

There are four main school board governance models that most public school boards follow:

operational, managerial, traditional and policy model. In one study, approximately two-thirds (61.32%) of school board members surveyed reported that they applied the policy model for decision making. Approximately one-third of respondents (30.66%) reported that the traditional model best described their board governance process.

Based on that information, we will discuss the policy model of governance and what board members should be aware of when applying a school board governance model.

Policy-Based School Board Governance Model

With the policy-based school board governance model, the board governs through policies that establish organizational goals, governance methods or processes, and management restrictions or limitations, and define the board/superintendent relationship. The superintendent may have autonomy to determine the method or process that will be implemented to achieve organizational goals or objectives. In this school board governance model, the superintendent reports to and is managed by the board.

The school board does not compete with administrators or the superintendent in managing or administrating the schools. The school board's job is to represent the interests and goals of the community and to oversee the superintendent, who carries out the duties associated with achieving those goals.

With the board serving in this role through the policy-based school board governance model, they take on the difficult responsibility of determining what goals should be tackled and setting the boundaries of ethics and prudence within which the system will function. Then, staff perform tasks to run the system.

Keep in mind that there is limited information involving the analysis and testing of some of these models as to their effectiveness in school board governance, particularly when it comes to the traditional and the policy school board governance models. However, implementing a school board governance model provides organization and efficiency in the governing of the public school system by the board.

Utilizing Tools for School Board Governance

1. Security

School board governance requires security and confidentiality on a number of issues. As the board oversees and manages the superintendent, it is imperative that some of the tools utilized by the board provide a level of security to ensure that not everyone will have access to the materials. BoardDocs, a Diligent brand, is school board management software. With BoardDocs, school boards can choose custom privacy settings for materials related to goals, proposals and superintendent evaluations. The superintendent may also customize settings so specific materials, like those the superintendent would prepare for an evaluation or a project, would only be accessible by staff members.

2. Training

Some boards have written policies regarding the expectation of the individuals serving on the board to attend school board governance or other forms of training. With BoardDocs, you can load board education materials right into the Library, and then board members can add dates for training sessions on the calendar. You can also make sure the board has access to all of the board policies ' including any regarding school board governance or education.

3. Manage Meetings

Depending on state law, school boards have specific requirements regarding posting public meeting information. With BoardDocs, school board governance through meeting management is simplified. Whether it be utilizing the electronic agenda feature, easily recording meeting minutes through the software, linking and sharing meeting-related documents, or searching through previous meeting agendas or minutes by keyword, BoardDocs makes school board governance easier and more efficient. These documents and features may not only be accessible to board members, but to the public as well.

4. Monitor and Measure Progress

As representatives of community interests, the school board has to be able to show results regarding implementing goals and projects. This is an imperative aspect of school board governance models. Leveraging a school board management software, like BoardDocs, school boards are able to list goals for the school district and break those goals down by task. On the dashboard, school board members are then able to set a measurable matrix that will let you view the percentage complete toward the goal. Through this goal-tracking feature, board members are able to actively track goal progress with related dates to know when the goal was set and when tasks are completed. This provides board members, administrators and public constituents with awareness regarding the progress of the district.

5. Transparency

Transparency promotes trust and shared responsibility with the public, those whom the school board serves to represent and reflect their interests. By utilizing BoardDocs, board members can communicate strategic plans through a 'share' button with the goal-tracking feature. The board can make goal progress available via email and/or social media to the public. With school board governance models, the goal is to always be effective and efficient in order to achieve the objectives and desires of the community. Leveraging tools, like BoardDocs, makes sharing information with the public easier and more organized.

As your board works through a school board governance model, keep in mind the various federal statutes, state laws, administrative codes and local policies that will impact your board and governance. As the authority charged with governing the local school district, each school board is entrusted with great responsibility with the community. Leveraging a tool like BoardDocs can make school board governance easier to implement and maintain.

Applying a school board governance model supports the board in effectively carrying out their duties. Without a governance model, conflict and challenges can arise in leadership; this can then shift the focus from student achievement to internal struggles and conflict.

Related Insights

The Rising Tide of ESG – Navigating the Road Ahead


The Board's Role in Leading and Enabling GRC


Board and Executive Collaboration: Components of a Secure Platform for the Evolving Workplace

White Paper
Lena Eisenstein
Lena Eisenstein is the former Commercial Alignment Manager for Content Strategy at Diligent.