Kentucky School Advocate
By Vickie Mitchell
Elected school boards have been under attack nationally for some time, but a researcher showed attendees at a KSBA Summer Leadership Institute clinic that many of the complaints are unfounded.
“I am here to bring you information that will help you respond to what I call the rhetoric about elected school boards, and to share with you what we are seeing as we have studied boards in the United States and overseas on what kinds of things that boards linked to high (student) achievement are doing,” said Dr. Thomas L. Alsbury, professor of educational leadership at Seattle Pacific University and the president of Balanced Governance Solutions.
PHOTO: Dr. Thomas L. Alsbury, left, discusses his presentation with Garrard County board member Kirby Overman.
His work shows that the elected school board is an effective form of governance and that school boards do affect student achievement.
For example, some have pushed for a shift to appointed boards, arguing that appointed boards would have a higher level of professionalism than elected ones. Alsbury’s research found that, to the contrary, appointed boards are less professional because their members are chosen for political reasons.
Many also believe that school boards do not reflect the diversity of their communities. Alsbury found school boards to be “more balanced in occupation and socioeconomics” than any other type of board– appointed or elected – in the United States, including Congress.
“Are we as representative as we could be, no, but if the argument is that due to representation we should eliminate the elected board, then we should look at Congress and we ought to throw that governance process out,” said Alsbury. “Every other entity should be looking to school boards and asking, ‘How did you get so equitable?’”
Alsbury edited the recently published book Improving School Board Effectiveness: A Balanced Governance Approach. He is working with KSBA to develop a board self-assessment process based on effective governance research.
During his session, he also shared some of the qualities of school boards and school board members that have taken the balanced governance approach he has developed, based on his studies of effective school boards.
At the top of the qualities for school boards is a focus on teaching and learning improvement.
“The focus is not on compliance and being directive and controlling,” he said, “but on setting and holding people to high standards and instructional improvement.”
Effective boards also partner with the community, use data to improve and employ innovation and creativity.
The most effective boards are neither a “benign cheerleader or a critic,” Alsbury said. Rather, they know what the school district is doing well, where it is failing and how it is trying to improve.
“While we do not interfere or tell administrators and teachers how to do their jobs, what we do is have more effective, informed oversight because we know what is going on and what is not going on,” he said.
Qualities of effective board members
• Knowing how and when to engage in open dialogue versus open debate.
• Understanding that they should oversee without overreaching.
• Being driven by interests and not individual positions.
• Having a broad focus on student concerns.
• Appreciating each school’s unique and shifting needs.
• Using their voice to reach resolution and reconciliation.
• Using power to ensure all voices are heard and solutions are reached through collaboration.
•Serving because of altruistic rather personal motivations.