Iowa Lighthouse Standards

The best research on effective board work linked to improving student achievement/success comes from the Lighthouse Project, based in the Iowa Association of School Boards and networked throughout the country. IASB now emphasizes the following "Standards for Effective School Boards."

In pursuit of world-class education that results in high achievement for all Iowa students, effective school boards emphasize:

1. VISIONARY TEAM: Operate as a visionary governance team in partnership with the superintendent.

  • Vision and Planning – Develops a shared vision and plans for student achievement that reflects common values and core beliefs of the school community.
  • Operating Practices – Uses productive practices for its own operations and development.
  • Decision-Making – Ensures board decisions are based on data and deliberation.
  • Board/Superintendent Relations – Cultivates a strong relationship and partnership with the superintendent, based on clear expectations and accountability.

2. STUDENT LEARNING: Provide effective leadership for quality instruction and high, equitable student learning.

  • Clear Expectations – Set and communicate high expectations for student learning with clear goals and a focus on strengthening instruction.
  • Conditions for Success – Support conditions for success through board actions and decisions.
  • Accountability – Hold the system accountable to reach student learning goals.
  • Collective Commitment – Build the collective commitment of community and staff to achieve the student learning goals.
  • Team Learning – Learn together as a whole team to inform decision-making around the student learning goals.

3. DISTRICT CULTURE: Foster a culture that enables excellence and innovation.

  • High Quality Staff – Empower the superintendent in hiring and developing the best employees available to meet the district’s goals.
  • Shared Leadership – Support structures that develop instructional leadership and collaboration.
  • Staff Learning – Support research-based staff professional development aligned with district goals.
  • Environment – Foster a safe and secure environment for all students, staff, and visitors.

4. POLICY & LEGAL: Lead through sound policy, ensuring transparent, ethical, legal operations.

  • Policy Leadership – Develop sound, written policy to clarify the board's intent for district direction.
  • Legal – Ensure that board and district actions are in compliance with state and federal laws, appropriately addressing legal issues when they arise.
  • Ethics – Model ethical and legal behaviors that enable the board to stay focused on district goals.
  • Transparency – Establish policies and ensure processes that are open and accountable.

5. FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY: Sustain and enhance district resources through planning and fiduciary oversight.

  • Financial Health – Monitor and evaluate the financial health of the district, ensuring accountability and transparency in board decision-making.
  • Financial Forecasting – Ensure strong financial planning for the district.
  • Budgeting – Ensure the district budget aligns with district goals and multi-year plans.
  • Risk Oversight – Ensure sufficient risk management is in place to protect district resources.
  • Facilities –Ensure school facilities enhance and enrich student and staff learning.

6. ADVOCACY: Advocate for public education and the needs of Iowa students.

  • Championing Local Governance & Public Education – Clearly articulate and advocate for the value of public education and the important role of local school governance.
  • Legislative Advocacy – Develop and strengthen ongoing relationships with policymakers around improving student achievement and the needs of public education.
  • Community Engagement – Foster engagement and collaboration with all stakeholders to ensure high and equitable student learning.

Foundation Principles of Effective Governance

Illinois leaders have long framed "the work of great governing" around foundation principles.

The collective wisdom is always introduced with the language of social, moral and legal responsibility:

As the corporate entity charged by law with governing a school district, each School Board sits in trust for its entire community. The obligation to govern effectively imposes some fundamental duties on the Board:

  • The Board Clarifies the District Purpose.
  • The Board Connects With the Community.
  • The Board Employs a Superintendent.
  • The Board Delegates Authority.
  • The Board Monitors Performance.
  • The Board Takes Responsibility For Itself.

Nine Essential Principles

The collective wisdom of Oregon board leaders has identified nine principles upheld by successful school board members. Here's a quick glimpse:

  • The child comes first!
  • School boards are community members who establish rules for how the district is run.
  • School board members function as a board, not individually.
  • The board sets the policies. Carrying out board policies is the responsibility of the superintendent and those under his or her authority.
  • Know your schools.
  • School board members are the people's representatives in the school program. A great many people do not understand the limitations of a board member's authority.
  • Effective boardsmanship means being able to voice the minority opinion when voting on an issue, then supporting the majority vote in the community.
  • Being an effective board member means participating in regional, state and national meetings.
  • Abiding by a code of conduct and board member ethics is important.
  • Enjoy your work as a school board member.

Five Traits of High-Impact School Boards

  • Concentration on governing above all other board work.
  • Development of the board's capacity to govern.
  • Active participation in leading district strategic change.
  • Meticulous attention to keeping the board-superintendent partnership healthy.
  • Active participation in reaching out a wider community.

~ from board effectiveness guru Doug Eadie's Five Habits of High-Impact School Boards

The 10 Principles of Policy Governance (simplified)

  • Govern on behalf of ownership.
  • Speak with one voice.
  • Make policy decisions.
  • Policy formed from large issues/values, then add necessary detail.
  • Define and delegate, rather than react and ratify.
  • Focus on ends not means.
  • Set boundaries rather than prescriptions.
  • Own, develop and improve board effectiveness.
  • Foster a relationship with management that's empowering, safe and effective.
  • Constantly monitor performance with rigor.

Nine Habits of Ineffective Boards

  • Disregard the agenda process and chain of command.
  • Confuse their roles with those of superintendent and staff.
  • Nit-pick.
  • Micro-manage.
  • Play to the media.
  • Focus on their personal interests.
  • Have interpersonal conflict with other board members or staff.
  • Commit limited time or energy to improving governance.
  • Do not respect the leadership of the district.

~ from the Educational Policy Institute of California

Sustaining Behaviors of Effective Boards

  • Establishing governance protocols and norms for how the team will operate when they are working together.
  • Establishing a system of response when protocols are not followed by members of the team.
  • Revisiting protocols for possible revisions.
  • Setting meeting norms.
  • Determining long- and short-term goals.
  • Regularly reviewing practices and accountability for the practices.
  • Effectively evaluating the board and the superintendent.
  • Understanding effective team behaviors.
  • Creating retreat opportunities for the governance team to discuss big ideas and revisit their beliefs and practices.
  • Hosting an orientation to the district and the board operations for new board members.
  • Reviewing board policies on a regular basis.
  • Promoting superintendent and board professional development around important topics.
  • Providing board presidents training in managing meetings.
  • Establishing communications protocols for board members, especially in times of crisis.
  • Requiring regular updates from departments such as business, human resources, and educational services.
  • Establishing budget processes and procedures.
  • Obtaining legal updates as needed.
  • Emphasizing student achievement discussions and focus.

~ from the Educational Policy Institute of California

"Four Sacred Duties"

  • Establish and promulgate ownership of the district's vision and values.
  • Articulate expected district results and monitor progress.
  • Create the conditions for the achievement of the district's vision, values and expected results through the effective use of the five areas of board authority: the promulgation of policies; governing the use of community fiscal resources for education; engaging the community in its schools; sustaining an effective board-executive relationship; negotiating and approving contracts.
  • Ensure a community-wide climate of commitment, respect and trust.

~ from Doing The Right Thing – The Panasonic Foundation's Guide for Effective School Boards

Eight Characteristics of Effective School Boards

From the Center for Public Education:

What makes an effective school board – one that positively impacts student achievement? From a research perspective, it’s a complex question. It involves evaluating virtually all functions of a board, from internal governance and policy formulation to communication with teachers, building administrators, and the public. But the research that exists is clear: boards in high-achieving districts exhibit habits and characteristics that are markedly different from boards in low-achieving districts. So what do these boards do? Here are eight characteristics.

  • Effective school boards commit to a vision of high expectations for student achievement and quality instruction and define clear goals toward that vision.
  • Effective school boards have strong shared beliefs and values about what is possible for students and their ability to learn, and of the system and its ability to teach all children at high levels.
  • Effective school boards are accountability-driven, spending less time on operational issues and more time focused on policies to improve student achievement.
  • Effective school boards have a collaborative relationship with staff and the community and establish a strong communications structure to inform and engage both internal and external stakeholders in setting and achieving district goals.
  • Effective school boards are data-savvy: they embrace and monitor data, even when the information is negative, and use it to drive continuous improvement.
  • Effective school boards align and sustain resources, such as professional development, to meet district goals.
  • Effective school boards lead as a united team with the superintendent, each from their respective roles, with strong collaboration and mutual trust.
  • Effective school boards take part in team development and training, sometimes with their superintendents, to build shared knowledge, values and commitments for their improvement efforts. High-achieving districts had formal, deliberate training for new board members. They also often gathered to discuss specific topics.

For a downloadable version of this page, go to "Framing - Standards for effective governing" in the tools collection, here.

For a supportive conversation, contact Brittany Crossman at 303-832-1000, [email protected].