Demystifying School Boards: What Do School Boards Do?

Demystifying School Boards: What Do School Boards Do?

Looking for ways to spur high school transformation in your community? Getting involved with your local school board is a great place to start.

What is a school board?

School boards are responsible for the education of a community’s young people, ensuring all students have access to a high-quality, rigorous education that prepares them for college, career, and life. Boards usually consist of five to nine elected or appointed representatives from the community, who meet regularly to discuss and decide issues related to local schools. They base their decisions on input from the superintendent, families, teachers, students, and the general public.


Lead change at your local school board.


Who serves on a school board?

School board members are elected or appointed members of the community who pursue a vision for local schools reflecting the needs of the students, the wishes of the voters, and the consensus of the community.

Nationwide, school boards control more than $600 billion annually and oversee the education of 50 million students. And yet few people know what school boards do or even who their local school board members are.

What do school boards do?

School boards address a wide array of issues, from the daily logistics of running a district to broader goals for the education of a community’s young people. On a practical, day-to-day level, school boards:

  • Hire and evaluate the superintendent
  • Approve budgets
  • Set spending priorities
  • Approve textbooks and other curriculum materials
  • Adopt the annual school calendar
  • Make decisions regarding opening and closing schools
  • Work closely with school and district leaders on school schedules, supplies, safety, discipline, classroom resources, facilities, and other issues.

Beyond the practical tasks, effective school boards set a vision for a community’s young people, helping them achieve a world-class education that prepares them for life beyond high school. Broader tasks include setting high academic standards, supporting teachers and staff, ensuring transparency and accountability, creating a safe and positive school culture, and advancing policies that allow every student to thrive. As controversies arise, school boards pursue consensus, reconcile differences, reach a compromise, and find solutions.


Make change through your school board.


School boards are accountable for how schools—and students—perform. School boards accomplish this by creating strong relationships with parents, teachers, students, and community members. It’s critical that school board members listen to and respond to community concerns and explain the district’s priorities to the public. Doing so helps both schools and students reach their full potential.

How does the school board interact with the superintendent, teachers, and families?

The school board, district leadership, and families work together to promote high-quality education for students. But they all play different roles:

  • School boards set the vision, goals, and policy for the district.
  • The superintendent answers to the board, implementing policies and directives, making recommendations, providing leadership, and generally serving as a resource. As the chief executive of the district, the superintendent handles day-to-day operations, oversees staff, and stays current on state and national education issues.
  • Parents—and the public at large—may attend school board meetings, ask questions, volunteer, get involved in their local schools, vote, and hold the board accountable.

Why are school boards important?

At XQ we believe that high schools are the fulcrum for educational transformation. Change high schools, and you change the entire system, from kindergarten through college. We believe that engaged and supportive school boards are essential for making the changes that need to happen in our high schools. School boards help prepare students for the modern world by making changes like ensuring equitable access to rigorous courses, implementing schedules that allow for project-based learning, and making sure teachers have the right professional development and support.

School boards can also take an active role in promoting equity and making sure all students get a high-quality education. They partner with superintendents, teachers, families, students, nonprofits, employers, and local colleges to break down barriers to learning, open up real-world learning opportunities, and create pipelines to college and career.

How to become a school board member

Everyone can get involved in their local school boards, by attending meetings, asking questions, supporting candidates, or even deciding to run for office themselves. Most school board members have never held prior office—they’re just ordinary people who care about their local schools and the future of the community’s young people.

If you’re considering running for your local school board, here are some tips to get you started:

  • Find your local school board using our School Board Lookup Tool
  • Gather data, evidence, and facts about your community and its schools
  • Identify challenges affecting local schools, as well as solutions
  • Craft a compelling campaign narrative about why you’re running and how you’ll make a positive difference
  • Talk to families, students, teachers, and community leaders to understand their visions and concerns about local schools
  • Inspire people to get involved and vote.

Learn more about school boards, the vital role they play in education, and how to get involved by checking out XQ’s free “That’s a School Board Thing.” This guide offers a comprehensive look at the important work school boards do, how to run for office, and once elected, how to be an effective school board member.

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