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Common Questions from New School Board Members

Common Questions from New Board Member

New board members usually start their service with a variety of questions. We’ll address some of the frequently asked questions here:

1. Where can I get information about my role?

There are a number of places where you can get information about your new role as a school board member. You should start by asking your superintendent and board president how the board functions in your district. They may mention your local orientation, team operating procedures, and a board activity calendar, among other things, as places you’ll learn about your role.

It’s a good idea to become familiar with your district’s policy manual, especially the policies that outline the board’s role. You can also access a variety of resources from your state’s school board association to help you understand your role. These include online courses and resources, publications, and live workshops.

2. What can I expect during my first several months of service?

Your first several months of service on the board can be an exciting time full of learning. Not only will you be learning about the board’s role, but you will also be learning how your local board operates, how your district’s schools function, and a variety of educational terms and phrases, among other things.

The first few months of service can be overwhelming at times, so it is a good idea to ask an experienced school board member to help you navigate through the first year of board service. You can rely on this mentor to help you keep your focus on learning the most important things at the appropriate time.

3. How might my life change now that I’m a school board member?

It is very common for new school board members to experience some changes to their life when they begin their service. It is not unusual for board members to be perceived and treated differently by many people in their community once they have been elected or appointed. You might also feel a bit busier because of the time it takes to prepare for and attend board meetings and other related commitments. A good way to prepare for these possible changes is by talking to experienced board members and attending training designed for new school board members.

4. How do I better prepare for board meetings?

The first thing you need to do is to find out who prepares the agendas for your board meetings and how to get an item included. This person may also share with you details about when you can expect to get agenda materials from your superintendent and what to do if you need additional information.

It’s also a good idea to ask your board president what rules of order are used at your meetings. Then make sure you understand the basic operations of an open meeting versus the limitations placed on closed sessions of your board.

Before the meeting, be sure to study the policies being discussed at your next meeting and review past meeting agendas to obtain insights that could help you contribute to the next meeting. Many districts may use a board packet preparation software such as BoardBook to post agendas and prepare the board packets electronically. Make it a point to familiarize yourself with the program your board uses to take advantage of its conveniences.

5. What should be on my checklist of things to learn within the first few months of taking office?

New board members are required in some states to receive a local orientation within a certain period of time of taking office. This orientation would address local district practices in curriculum and instruction, business and finance operations, district operations, superintendent evaluation, and board member roles and responsibilities.

School board members should be prepared to learn the following within the first few months of taking office:

  • Overview of district statistics, such as enrollment, demographics, performance summaries, and recent trends
  • Administrative structure and names of key personnel
  • District vision, mission, goals, and plan summaries
  • District planning and evaluation process and calendar
  • District budget summary and recent trends in revenue, appropriations, tax rates, and property values
  • Budget development process and calendar
  • Copy of district policy manual or access to an online policy manual
  • Policy development and review process
  • Overview of district curriculum objectives, standards, and instructional programs
  • Superintendent evaluation process, calendar, and instrument and current performance goals
  • Personnel hiring practices and salary schedule
  • Preferred practices for common tasks, such as requesting information, bringing business before the board, preparing for and participating in board meetings, communicating with team members, communicating with the public and media, and visiting schools or district offices

In addition, ask if your district provides other resources for new members, such as a board handbook, team operating procedures, or mentors for new board members.

6. How do I succeed in my role as board member?

During the first several months of service, you should focus your attention on learning. Ask a lot of questions that would help you understand the role of the board and how your board and superintendent function together. Listen to your fellow board members and rely on their experience, but at the same time, build your confidence around what your skills and knowledge can bring to the table.

It is also important to understand how the board’s role is different from and complementary to the role of the superintendent, as is to listen to and handle concerns and complaints from your community and staff. Once you feel settled into your role, don’t be afraid to inquire how things are done and to question why things are done a certain way to help the board and the district move in a positive direction.

For more information on leadership and school board governance, visit the Leadership Team Services Resources on the TASB web page.