The Board's Role In Educational Improvement

Initially considered to be an instrument of fiscal prudence and guarantor of the proper socialization of the community's children (Conley, 1993), "modern school boards . . . were founded on the belief that citizens should control the policies that determine how the children in our communities are educated" (Staff, March 1992, p. 1). For the most part, local school boards have spent much of their time on crisis management and operational details and little time on systematic planning and policy development (Cohen, 1990). Such a contradiction stems from the increasing pressure of special interest groups on the board and superintendent, although these district officials welcome community participation and parent interest, particularly in planning activities (Glass, 1992). While some would say that "the local board of education is a cherished and unique institution in the American educational system" (Conley, 1993, p. 68), it is clear that boards currently are intensely scrutinized, evaluated loudly and publicly, and given precious little rewards.

Interestingly, during the past decade of attention on school reform, "boards and board members have seldom been mentioned in the literature" (Glass, 1991, p. 9). They have been overlooked in reform initiatives and cited as the forgotten players on the education team (Danzberger, Carol, Cunningham, Kirst, McCloud, & Usdan, 1987). Perhaps this is because boards appeared to have little participation in reform efforts. A survey of 900 board presidents conducted by the Illinois Association of School Boards and reported in 1993 revealed that school boards, across the 50 states surveyed, "focused on rules, regulations, and maintenance of the status quo" (Staff, March 1993).

While there appears to be little change in the activities of boards in the last decade, the lack of attention to what boards do or should do has changed dramatically in the '90s. Currently there is a strong and growing urgency for the overhaul of the 200-year-old institution that governs our schools, so that the school's governing works "to the advantage of every child" (Danzberger, Kirst, & Usdan, 1992, p. viii).

And how do superintendents, who typically work very closely with their boards, view their board colleagues in their role as reformers? Superintendents in the 1992 Study of the American Superintendency assessed their "board members as 'qualified' but not 'well qualified' for their responsibilities" (Glass, 1992, p. xi). Several published reviews of the roles have examined and questioned the usefulness of boards' roles in the first place: "Report of the Twentieth Century Fund," 1992; "Local School Boards: Endangered Species or Key to Reform," 1992; "Boards of Contention," 1992. Are boards an obstacle to-rather than a force for-reform ("Report of the Twentieth Century Fund")? Are boards "defenders of the status quo" ("Boards of Contention"), or does board action encourage school improvement (Devlin-Scherer & Devlin-Scherer, 1993)?

The first section of this paper briefly explores the literature on what boards do in education reform and what their role has been recommended to be. The next section describes, from the field, what three boards and their districts in two states are doing in practice to support education reform and improvement. The concluding section offers implications and comments on board member s' training and professional development.

From the Literature

The research literature on boards' actions in reform is modest. Much more extensive are writings that advise and postulate the actions that boards should take. A sampling of what boards do is reported first.

Board Influence on Reform

A three-year study conducted in Illinois found (from examining board meeting minutes) that school board motions related to school reform constituted only four percent of all motions (Devlin-Scherer & Devlin-Scherer, 1993). A second study used as a data source, not school board minutes, but the "nature of administrators' tasks immediately after school board meetings to determine the board's influence on encouraging administrators to complete tasks associated with school improvement and instructional leadership" (Devlin-Scherer & Devlin-Scherer, 1993, p. 36). This four-year study of 10 boards conducted in Vermont resulted in the identification of 6,747 administrative tasks assigned from 576 school board meetings from August 1985 to December 1989.

Twenty-six percent of the administrators' tasks were related to school improvement and 18 percent to instructional leadership. The instructional leadership tasks were focused on "managing the instructional program, defining the school's mission, and promoting school climate" (Devlin-Scherer & Devlin-Scherer, 1993, p. 37). Administrators attending the boards' meetings directed 74 percent of their after-meeting tasks to non-school improvement and 82 percent to non-instructional leadership. The researchers noted, "Some school boards have developed an historical culture of board operation that is dominated by the assignment of trivial tasks to their highly trained administrators . . . this picture of historical board culture appears to match the perception of many who have served or worked with school boards and may be somewhat difficult to change" (Devlin-Scherer & Devlin-Scherer, 1993, p. 37).

Fullan (1991) reported on a RAND study of boards and communities in a different action mode, where major demographic changes stimulated "community activism in a previously stagnant school system" (p. 244). The activism led to the election of new board members and their hiring of an innovative superintendent who restructured the central office and facilitated involvement of school-level staff in change. These districts experienced transformation in a short time, as new programs and other innovations were implemented.

These examples are polar ends of the spectrum of board action in school change and improvement. While the research literature does not contain many examples of board actions for reform, education publications do contain fairly abundant writings and exhortations about the role the board should have.

What Boards Should Do

The National School Boards Association has identified a "four-fold thrust," four major dimensions recommended for school board governance that have direct relevance for the school district's reform agenda (Shannon, 1992). Each of these is reviewed below.

Create the vision for a community on what its education expectations should be (Shannon, 1992). This means that the local board, in close concert with its constituents, establishes goals and policy statements (Cohen, 1990; Cotton, 1992; Prasch, 1990), answering the question, "What kind of education program does the community want and what can they afford?" Stephens (1993) suggests that the more appropriate questions are "What kind of world will our children be living in? What knowledge, skills, and attitudes will they require to thrive in that world?" (p. 10). Stephens asserts that organizations have learned that what their customers want and what they really need are not always the same.

Patterson (1993) reacts to this first dimension by emphasizing that the local board should design a process whereby the school district develops a shared vision of education in the community by involving all constituents in the process. The old model was to lead by "exhortation and demand," but now the board leads by "enunciating a visionary mission statement" (Prasch, 1990, p. 17) and setting priorities (Staff, October, 1992).

Establish and nurture the structure and environment in the schools and throughout the community that are conducive to achieving the community's vision for education (Shannon, 1992). In this case, the board allocates resources (Cotton, 1992), being sure that they are adequately targeted to students with the greatest needs (Hord, 1992). The board ensures that a strong infrastructure is developed and in place so the shared vision (Patterson, 1993) and goals can be accomplished. Stephens (1993) would like to expand the infrastructure to "nurturing an environment conducive to change and reform" (p. 11). This suggests developing a context that contains the ecological and cultural elements needed for a change-oriented district (Boyd, 1992).

Cause assessment of education achievement and other conditions relevant to learning in the community to enhance accountability to the people of the community (Shannon, 1992). The board must monitor progress (Cotton, 1992), monitoring results rather than processes, changing from "an inspectorial role to providing a forum for the staff to report progress on goals" (Prasch, 1990, p. 17). Oversight by the board is necessary to ascertain if goals are being accomplished and policies are producing their intended effects (Cohen, 1990). The board evaluates even the superintendent in light of the goals and priorities set (Staff, October, 1992).

A sound assessment system must be required by the board "to measure the performance of the instructional program and the students . . . so the most accurate, results-oriented evaluation can be made" (Fisher & Shannon, 1993, p, 9). Further, the board should create a process for involving all constituents in designing an appropriate assessment system (Patterson, 1993). Stephens (1993), however, objects to the emphasis on assessing results. The typical assessment system, she says, is a "way of trying to figure out whom to blame" (p. 11). Stephens maintains that school boards should be studying the system or processes from which performance comes.

Serve as the key advocate for education within the community and with local, state, and federal policymakers of the general-purpose governments (Shannon, 1992). This is an important dimension because of the decreasing percent of citizens with children in school; local boards must stand up for children in the local community and at the state level (Fisher & Shannon, 1993). Cohen (1990) concurs that boards will need to be strong advocates for education and youth. Stephens (1993), on the other hand, maintains that the entire community must feel a responsibility for its children. "The school board is certainly a key player...If we call one group primary, we deny the importance of all the others" (p. 11).

These four dimensions, in principle, seem quite acceptable as a way to describe the board's role, although Conley (1993) notes that the board's role could be reduced to two dimensions: "to review and comment on proposed goals for the district" and individual campuses, and "to assess the degree to which school and district goals were achieved" (p. 70).

If the board undertakes such decentralization of authority and decision making, it will realize it has to support differences between schools and express enthusiasm about schools being unique (Sparks, 1991; Gibbs, 1991). The board will leave its role of determining standardization and uniformity and accept a public relations role, "celebrating the diversity among its schools and in championing the right of school sites to be different" (Prasch, 1990, p. 18).

Such districts commit "resources (staff time and money) and authority to the creation and support of new ideas for instruction, new roles within schools, and new opportunities for professional growth and development among educators." These districts have created "new political coalitions to support school reform and have negotiated new terms of accountability that relax external controls on schools in return for demonstrated high performance" (Cohen, p. 25).

In assuming these new perspectives, boards have adopted critical roles in restructuring and reform from the hiring of appropriate superintendents, to developing new policies and/or eliminating regulations, to participating in school-site councils. These roles demand trust and patience as well as "bold risk-taking ... leadership and coherent policy making," difficult characteristics and "rare among school boards to date" (Kirst, 1993, p. 17).

From the Field

The formulation of a future-oriented vision that targets the increased success of all students is the foundation for change initiated by three Texas school boards whose districts are successfully implementing district restructuring and three Arkansas boards focused on school improvement. The vision has been shared with and expanded by both the internal and external communities. The vision has been the focus for district and campus planning, budget allocations, policy decisions, and accountability procedures. Board members say their vision for students has enabled them to maintain their attention on district goals and their policy role.

Sources of Information

The school boards in this study were selected because their districts were known to be implementing innovative, futureoriented changes. The inquiry was designed to understand and describe the role of the boards and the leadership practices the boards used in initiating and implementing change. It is clearly not an exhaustive study, but snapshots of board leadership practices in school change. The districts whose leadership teams (the board and the superintendent) shared their views in Arkansas were Batesville, Greenbrier, and Siloam Springs. In Texas, the districts were Bryan ISD, Tomball ISD, and Waco ISD.

In Arkansas, respondents were the superintendent and a member or officer of the district's school board. In the three Texas districts, respondents included a board officer, a board member, and the district superintendent. Each of the Texas districts was implementing site-based decision making, mandated by the state board of education. In addition, each was focusing on a wide array of district change initiatives. Similarly, each of the Arkansas districts was working on multiple improvement efforts. The number of students served by their respective districts was:

  • Batesville, Arkansas (2,300);
  • Greenbrier, Arkansas (slightly less than 2,000);
  • Siloam Springs, Arkansas (2,500);
  • Bryan, Texas (12,000);
  • Tomball, Texas (5,000);
  • and Waco, Texas (15,000).

Each board in the two states included female and male members, with a wide range of years of service. Two of the superintendents in both Arkansas and Texas were in their first term as a superintendent. One superintendent in Texas was female; all six superintendents were non-hispanic white. Respondents from all districts consistently referred to the students they serve. The questions to the respondents focused on changes in their districts and the board's role in the district efforts: What changes have been implemented in your district in the last one to three years? How has the board supported the staff in implementing the changes? How does the board identify its purpose and role? Does the board share a vision and, if so, what is it? What is the board's experience in strategic planning? How does the board relate to the superintendent and community?

Responses to the questioning conducted by telephone interviews provided data that were analyzed and reported by the following topics: board purpose, shared vision, strategic planning, board support of staff in implementing change, board role and responsibilities, relationships with the superintendent and other board members, and relationships with the community.

The Board's Purpose

All three Arkansas districts' respondents clearly articulated the same dual purpose of their boards: to stay closely connected to their community, as "to be a liaison with the Greenbrier community;" and to establish high quality policies for administrators to implement. The Batesville board "serves the educational needs of the community through setting policy, and the superintendent is responsible for implementing policy. We are responsible for hiring the superintendent, providing him with support to do his job - empowering him to work for the schools - so that our students will be enabled to be their best." The Arkansas boards see their job as not to run the schools ("we stay out of personnel") but to stay closely in touch with the superintendent and the programs that they want for students.

When asked, all three Texas boards said their guiding purposes were students, their needs and their achievements. It is this purpose that motivates the Bryan board members, ". . . to get egos out of the way so that students are first on our agenda. There are no hidden agendas. We are all focused on the students." Tomball concurred: "We are here to educate kids in a quality fashion. That is why we are members of the board." Board members in all three districts continuously noted how the focus on students permeates everything they do. They believe the focus on students is the reason for the boards' existence, and it is the heart of their vision. As Tomball aptly stated, "We keep the vision in front of us. We state it in our publications. We state it in our plan. We state it in our goals, and we reinforce it through our actions."

The Shared Vision

Throughout the interviews, board members used the term vision when they described what they wanted for their districts in the future. At first, they offered broad statements like, "the number-one district in the state," or "a district that graduates students who successfully move into the twenty-first century." Later, when the boards and their superintendents invited the staff and the community to participate in district planning, the board members referred to this act as sharing and expanding the board's original vision. Later, the district mission, goals, objectives, and finally, action plans became the larger, more specific vision.

In Siloam Springs, Arkansas, the entire community periodically reviews the district's goals. Through a district-wide renewal council that meets monthly and is cochaired by the superintendent and a teacher, a central focus is consistently provided for the improvement of the district's program. The council involves a representative from each campus, from the university, parents, business, and the board (a plan is being developed to include students also). The council identifies barriers while planning for change, distributes minutes to a wide range of constituents, and engages in broad-based vertical and horizontal communication so there are no surprises to anyone. District-level task forces are organized to study and deal with particular issues such as equity, technology, and staff development. Their work and recommendations are reported back to the renewal council. A shared vision evolves from these structures. Campus councils perform similarly, meeting monthly to address needs.

In Greenbrier, the community provides input into the schools through a business and educational alliance, developed by the superintendent who also serves as president of the Chamber of Commerce that meets at the schools where members see what is going on in the schools. Board members and school personnel are active in the community, for instance, attending leadership programs provided by Arkansas Power and Light. Through this exchange of community members coming into the school and school staff attending business/community programs, information and interests are shared and contribute to the vision of the district's educational program.

When the new Batesville superintendent arrived last year, the board and community, through broad-based representation, met to develop consensus in six areas that would set the course of direction for the year and develop into a three-to-five year plan of action - reflecting the district's vision.

In Texas, the earlier planning of the Bryan board and superintendent resulted in a long-range plan. The community was invited to provide input at public meetings that expanded the original vision. Throughout the plan's early period of implementation, district progress was reported continuously in the newspaper. When the superintendent left, the focus objectives were the cornerstone of the search for the next superintendent. At the beginning of the first implementation year, the Bryan board and new superintendent hosted 400 community members at a dinner where 13 focus objectives were revealed. Over the next year, implementing the 13 focus objectives was a district priority in budget decisions, administrative leadership, and community interest.

With their previous superintendent, the Waco board also developed a vision for the future direction of the district. The Waco board received a Danforth Foundation grant to create a communitybased plan that addressed the needs of the children and youth of Waco. The plan moved the district and the board to strengthen their connections with the community. Not long after the plan was developed, the superintendent resigned to take a position in another Texas district, and the boardcommunity plan became a starting place for the communitybased superintendent search in Waco. Likewise, in Tomball, the Tomball board with its previous superintendent was developing a district plan. When the superintendent retired, this plan was the basis of the superintendent search.

Coincidentally, the three boards chose to use the same superintendent search service. One important aspect of this service is that it requires community involvement in the process through the employment of a community-based survey as one source of information in determining the criteria for hiring. With the vision expressed in their district plans and the additional community input as a basis for superintendent selection, each board hired a new superintendent. The inclusion of the community in superintendent selection is exemplary of the boards' commitment to the community and community involvement in the schools. As in sharing vision development, including the community in superintendent selection is another characteristic shared by Bryan, Tomball, and Waco school boards. Such community involvement was mentioned throughout the interviews as essential to the success of the schools in making change, especially critical to the strategic planning effort, a major initiative in all three districts.

Strategic Planning

Not long after their selection, the new Texas superintendents recommended to their boards that strategic planning be one of the first initiatives of their tenure. Though the three districts selected different approaches to strategic planning, the planning designs shared several essential characteristics. All were derived from the shared vision and were future oriented, value driven, community based, and student centered. A Tomball perception was that, "Through the planning process, a consistent message is sent, 'This is what the vision is. This is why it is important.' "

The initiation of the strategic planning required considerable leadership and risk taking, board members said. The boards were willing "for the benefit of all students" to open the district and themselves to public scrutiny. According to a Waco response, "The board was willing to say to the community, 'Okay, Waco, tell us what you want. Tell us how we can do better.' It was no longer a self-examination from within. Answers came from the bottom up; not the top down." The strategic plan identified student outcomes and served as the guiding force in all three district initiatives implemented by the staff.

Once or twice a year the Greenbrier board and superintendent schedule a retreat away from the press and patrons, where they can focus on philosophical discussions and grapple with where they want to go. In this setting where distractions and disruptions are absent, the board can learn from and with the superintendent about new programs and tools that are available to the schools, and prioritize long-range issues and what they will do in the next three to five years. At one of the other Arkansas board's retreats, the presence of the newspaper editor diminished the success of the retreat - members felt they couldn't "really let their hair down" as they might have if the press were not present. Although all Arkansas respondents expressed a strong desire and value of community involvement and input, they also appreciated the opportunity to meet "within the family" and focus on concerns among themselves first - before opening up to the community.

Board Support of the Staff in Implementing Change

When asked how the board supports the district staff in the implementation of district and campus plans, the interviewees consistently noted that board support was provided through modeling, through reinforcement, and through the appropriate execution of official board functions. Board functions include monitoring of programs, superintendent evaluation, budget adoption, and policy decisions. A Tomball respondent shared that his board models planning by devoting the first part of each board work session to board planning.

The board's review of programs through the program reporting process is a key aspect of all the boards' accountability procedures. The meeting agendas of all boards include a district and campus program progress report. These public program reports serve to inform not only the board but all district stakeholders of progress toward the realization of district and campus goals. The procedure demonstrates the boards' willingness to hold the superintendent, district staff, and themselves accountable for student outcomes.

Another way in which the boards demonstrate support of the staff in the implementation of change initiatives is through the budget process. At Tomball, "We need to support the teachers. We cannot expect teachers to make the changes without our support. The board must provide the budget necessary for training, quality curriculum, facilities, and materials."

In Bryan, "We made a commitment to bring the persons with the greatest merit to Bryan. The board's response was to back the commitment with a budget to do so." Other examples of how the boards provide budgetary support include the Waco board's budget support for an innovative teacher incentive pay plan tied to campus goal accomplishment, the Bryan board's approval of funds for an innovative prekindergarten program and facility, and the Tomball board's support of the hightech "Junior Highs of the 21st Century."

Board support is not limited to budget functions. The boards uniformly provide policy support. In all districts, policy waivers are granted, new policies are adopted, and policies are eliminated in support of the successful implementation of change initiatives. A specific example of policy support was based on the belief held by all the boards about the importance of quality staff development as a key to effective school change. All believed adequate time for staff development to be crucial. Increased staff development time requires not only budget support, but policy support as well. Other examples of policy adoption in support of staff's change initiatives included the Waco board's adoption of new grading structures and yearround schools on 10 campuses. This was in response to the request of the schools' communities.

Board support also comes in the personal participation of board members. In Greenbrier's Mentoring program, that seeks to close the gap of high and low achieving students, school board members accompany low achieving students and their parents on a variety of excursions: athletic events, shopping trips, a meal in a restaurant. In this way the board models and confirms its support. In Siloam Springs, the board and superintendent invited parents and press to be involved with them in teachers' inservice. The inservice occurred once a month on an early release day. The attendance of the other parties provided information to them about what the school staff was doing at school without students. Understanding about the release day was developed and widespread support was a result.

Board support for staff often comes in the form of the tough decisions. In the case of Waco ISD, the board approved the administration's recommendation for reassignment of some administrators who failed to act as instructional leaders. It was a difficult decision because several had been principals for many years. With the focus on student needs, the board approved the recommendation. Well before it became a judicial mandate, the Bryan board moved to offer a single-member district proposal to the community to ensure a more balanced representation on the board. This meant that two current members would have to compete for the same seat. The proposal was accepted by the community, and one of the board members lost his seat for the good of the whole.

Board Role and Responsibilities

Knowledge of their role and commitment to the appropriate execution of their responsibilities within that role are two additional characteristics shared by the responding boards. "It is an attitude. We are very serious about staying within the appropriate position as board members. We act out of that attitude. We do our job as policymakers. We let the superintendent do his job. We rely on the superintendent to do what he was hired to do. We are a policymaking body. We do not get into the detail of the superintendent's day-to-day operations." "We know our roles. We do not micro-manage. The board has a clear vision of their role. They set the direction for the district. They are willing to stand up and make difficult decisions. They hold the superintendent accountable for operations." "The board has freed the administration to do its job. The board makes policy decisions, provides the necessary resources to get the job done, and holds the superintendent accountable." In all districts, these kinds of remarks are heard. All districts have a clear sense of the role of the board and its responsibilities to its constituents.

In the execution of their responsibilities, with student achievement as their overarching goal and community involvement as a key strategy, the Texas boards have taken their meetings to the community. Board meetings are held on a different campus each month. In consideration of community members attending board meetings, agendas are shorter, utilizing consent agendas. (A consent agenda is an item on the regular agenda that groups routine items under one agenda heading and allows the board to vote on all items listed at one time.) In Waco's case, timed agenda items aid in efficient meetings. This ensures that a greater amount of time is allocated for campus and district program reports.

Board Relationships

Clear delineation of roles and responsibilities between the board and the superintendent, clearly stated expectations, continuous sharing of information, and open, honest communication among all parties nurture a positive relationship between board members and their respective superintendents. Trust was mentioned throughout the interviews; it is trust built on the superintendent's and the board's ability to honor agreements, to communicate openly and honestly, to demonstrate their leadership and commitment to the district's mission. Consistently, all respondents observed that there were no surprises for either board or superintendent because of the factors enumerated.

Positive board member relationships rely on good communication, the ability of team members to express and honor individual points of view, the letting go of personal agendas, and the ability to arrive at a consensus on what is best for all students. Interviewees believe their boards maintain positive relationships with each other. One Tomball respondent said, "We are a unified board. When we have disagreements, we clear up points before we leave the discussion." In Bryan, "We respect each other. We do not fight among ourselves. We agree to disagree. We focus our attention on the students."

Two of the Texas boards like Batesville and Greenbrier in Arkansas continue to strengthen their relationships through school board retreats during which they reexamine their mission, their commitment, and their behavior as members of the board. Board members comment that they would not be absent from these important work sessions. At Waco, "Nobody wants to miss the annual board retreat. We share ideas; we bond as a team. We formulate our vision for the district."

The Board and the Community

As noted throughout this field report, community involvement in the schools is valued highly by the board members and superintendents of all the districts. Community input is sought, involvement in district and campus decision making is invited, and community partnerships with the school districts are initiated. Not only is information shared, but some of the boards go out to their community with their board meetings, and board members participate in community affairs. Community input is a key focus of the boards. They include the community on task forces, committees, and strategic planning teams. Input includes feedback that encourages commitment from the community. Waco board members are actively involved in the city's neighborhood associations. They support joint initiatives with the Waco city government, such as the sharing of the city's libraries, the use of the city transportation system to supplement the school transportation system, and the partnership with Baylor School of Medicine to establish a public health clinic in the schools based on identified community needs.

Bryan and Tomball, too, value the involvement of the community in the district. Like Waco, these districts invited the entire community to participate in the strategic planning action teams. Bryan has initiated several collaborative efforts with the city; one collaborative resulted in the city's donation of land for the "Elementary School of the 21st Century." Tomball admitted that the inclusion of the city leaders as spokespersons for the bond issue greatly influenced the positive results.

In Batesville, community meetings are new to the district and very successful. Everyone values the openness and shared communication that has been introduced. Board members are eager to continue and to enhance community input and involvement. Greenbrier's major goals for how the board functions is to reach the community even more effectively, to foster clearer articulation of goals with the community and to increase community involvement and consensus on issues. Siloam Springs consistently involves the community in asking: "Where are we now? Where do we want to be? How do we get there? Did we make it?" Living each day this way, the board encourages the community in the district's continuous improvement.

Communication with the community is a constant challenge for each of the boards, yet one they seem to welcome. All stated that they continuously work to ensure effective communication with their publics. What seems to work one time may not work the next. They maintain positive relationships with the newspaper and media representatives, providing articles and information on a regular basis. They conduct focus groups, surveys, campus-based committees, and board meetings in the community. They listen. They honor input whenever possible.

In Conclusion

What makes these school boards worthy of attention is their unwavering commitment. It is their strong focus on the children and youth of their community that supports them through the hours of reading, meeting, and debating. It is this commitment that motivates them to connect with their communities. It is this commitment that moves them to attend training not only at home, but also regionally and at the state level. It is this commitment that drives each board member to work through inevitable differences; to establish procedures that guide efficient board meetings; and to communicate in an open and honest manner, listening and building on each other's contribution. This commitment is the keystone that supports these boards in effectively directing their districts through educational improvement initiatives.


Readers will note that the new vision of the school board's leadership role in restructuring and school improvement described in the literature is, in fact, operational in some Texas and Arkansas school boards today. Boards wishing to move in this direction will need preparation for new roles (Glass, 1991) such as those described above. It will be necessary for many boards to develop new skills if they plan to involve all district staff "in a significantly different manner" (Patterson, 1993). Because board members bring "a range of skills, abilities, and experiences . . . each has different needs" (Hoelscher, 1993, p. 36). And, because the composition of some boards changes often, new members will require different training than experienced members.

"Board members campaign as individuals but serve as part of a team" (Rosenberger, 1993). This means that training and development in team building is frequently necessary. Part of the team operation and growth process is the board's commitment to self-assessment of their performance and to investing in the development of their capacity to govern well (Kirst, 1993); they should establish procedures for doing this (Danzberger, Kirst, Usdan, 1992). States should support training for boards through mandates and provision of resources (Kirst, 1993), although "board members should proactively direct their own professional development" (Tallerico, 1993, p. 36). Just as the board provides support for district staff in learning and development of new practices, so they must support their own continual improvement.

In "Facing the Challenge: Report of the Twentieth Century Fund Task Force on School Governance," boards were noted as having "served us well in creating a literate, innovative society that has changed the world" (Staff, March, 1992, p. 92). Boards have a continuing role to play in a changing society in which they, too, must change. Walker concludes that the local school board as an institution has become a focus for change as has the entire system of public education (1993). The board's perpetual task then "is its pursuit of excellence in the governing process itself . . . quality governance grows as we do, yet always remains a little beyond our grasp . . . The board is, after all, creating tomorrow's traditions with the actions it takes today. Leadership compels us to be true to tomorrow more than to yesterday" (Carver, 1990, pp. 209-210).


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  • Kirst, M. (Winter 1993). The future of the local school board. Journal of Texas Public Education, 1(2), 9-28.
  • Olson, L. & Bradley, A. (April, 1992). Boards of contention (Special Report). Education Week, Washington, D.C.
  • Patterson, H. (February 1993). Don't exclude the stakeholders. The School Administrator, 50(2), 13-14.
  • Prasch, J. (1990). How to Organize for School-Based Management. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Rosenberger, M. (Winter 1993). The role acquisition process of a school board member in Texas. Journal of Texas Public Education, 1(2), 29-38.
  • Shannon, T. A. (January 1992). School Boards and Representative Government: The Holes in The Arguments of Their Critics. Alexandria, VA: National School Boards Association.
  • Sparks, D. (November 1991). The changing role of central office administrators: An interview with Sally Caldwell. The Developer (The National Staff Development Council), 1, 6.
  • Staff. (March 1992). Report of the Twentieth Century Fund Task Force on School Governance. New York: The Twentieth Century Fund Press.
  • Staff. (September 1992). Local school boards: Endangered species or key to reform. SEDL. SCAN (Vol. II, No. 6), Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, Austin, TX.
  • Staff. (October 1992). Getting better schools. Policy Brief. Institute on Education & Training (Issue Number 1), RAND, Santa Monica, CA.
  • Staff. (March 1993). School boards, superintendents are not into change, survey finds. Partners in Education, National Association of Partners in Education, Inc., Alexandria, VA.
  • Stephens, G. M. (February 1993). Wrong questions lead to misdirected answers. The School Administrator, 50(2), 10-11.
  • Tallerico, M. (Winter 1993). The professional development of school board members. Journal of Staff Development, 14(1), 32-36.
  • Walker, B. D. (Winter 1993). Reforming school boards: A critique of the "Report of the Twentieth Century Fund Task Force on School Governance." Journal of Texas Public Education, 1(2), 57-71.

An earlier version of this paper that contains only Texas school boards' data may be found in Hord, S. & Reynolds-Gibbs, R. (1993). The school boards' leadership role in restructuring. Journal of Texas Public Education, 2(1), 37-52.

School board representatives who provided information for this paper are: Marilyn Battles, Greenbrier, Arkansas; Peggy Bellars, Batesville, Arkansas; Kenneth Dixon, Siloam Springs, Arkansas; James Bradford, Bryan, Texas; Dale Baysinger, Tom Ball, Texas; Billy Barrett, Waco, Texas.

Credits and Disclaimer

Issues . . . about Change is published and produced quarterly Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL). This publication is based on work sponsored by the Office of Educational Research & Improvement, U.S. Department of Education under grant number RP91002003. The content herein does not necessarily reflect the views of the department or any other agency of the U.S. government or any other source. Available in alternative formats.

The Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) is located at 4700 Mueller Blvd., Austin, Texas 78723; 512-476-6861/800-476-6861. SEDL is an Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer and is committed to affording equal employment opportunities to all individuals in all employment matters.

This issue was written by Shirley M. Hord, Senior Research Associate, Services for School Improvement, SEDL, and Rita Reynolds-Gibbs, Senior Consultant, Leadership Team Services, Texas Association of School Boards.

Published in Issues ...about Change Volume 3, Number 4, The Board's Role In Educational Improvement (1994)