New to school governance? Tips and resources for new board members

CSBA is excited to welcome new trustees to the association and to board governance! These candidates were elected as individuals but will serve as part of a governance team — and, as with building a solid foundation for any team, a key first step is to get to know one another and make new board members feel welcome, according to CSBA Governance Consultants Luan Rivera and Daryl Camp. “Intentionality is the key,” said Camp. “What will the board do to make sure the new member is respected, accepted and included? And to make sure they feel secure in their new role?”

Rivera suggested one-on-one conversations are a good way to get acquainted with new trustees to get to know them as people and build understanding, relationships and rapport. The governance team should also plan to have group conversations during open session, special board meetings designed to integrate the new member(s) into the governance team and help them learn about their new role. Boards can continue to grow and learn through attending conferences and workshops together, such as CSBA’s Annual Education Conference or Masters in Governance program.

Once board members are properly acquainted, it is important to share information about how the district is organized to conduct business. Established board members and superintendents should ensure new trustees understand the district’s history, current and historical issues, budget cycles and how different systems in the district relate to one another. Once the basic information is received, the board should discuss the district’s vision, mission, priorities, goals and finances, to name a few.“Know and live by the mission and vision of your LEA,” said Rivera. “Priorities are critical; there are so many things you can do in a district, but given the resources, you cannot do everything. When you say everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. If you are clear in your priorities, your superintendent and staff will know how to implement them.”

Another important area to cover is how the board interacts with different groups connected to the school such as PTAs, community groups, English Learner Parent Advisory Committees as well as any other committees formed to provide input to the board.

1. Identify unity of purpose. Questions to answer to get at your board’s unity of purpose include:

  • Who are we?
  • What is our common ground?
  • What is our purpose?
  • What do we want to accomplish?
  • To whom are we responsible?
  • What legacy do we want to leave?
2. Understand roles & responsibilities. The board sets direction; the superintendent and staff make it happen. The progress of goals can be monitored with regular board meeting check-ins and presentations. Consult Board Bylaws 9000 and 9200 for clarification on the roles and responsibilities of board members. Talk with your team about the role of board officers and make sure everyone understands the Brown Act open meeting law.

3. Build a positive culture. How does your board want to be seen by your community? What are the behaviors that characterize the board? How do you model good government in action? Be mindful of your governance role and carry out your duties with professionalism. Remember that district decisions are made as a team, not as an individual, and support majority decisions even if you did not vote for them.

4. Follow governance protocols. The board should discuss and agree upon structures and processes to carry out board responsibilities.

Eight traits of an effective trustee:
  1. Mindful of their governance role
  2. Carries out duties in a professional manner
  3. Focused on student achievement and district goals
  4. Comes to board meetings well prepared, knowing the topics and issues
  5. Systems thinker
  6. Deep learner who knows the topics and issues well
  7. Committed to their work
  8. Understand which subjects are confidential (i.e., subjects of closed session meetings)

Check back on the blog tomorrow to find out why new board members ran for their position!