Is Your School Board Prepared to Lead?

Nov 15, 2023 2:19:34 PM


Historically dull and often overlooked by the average voter,  school board elections have become some of the hottest elections on local ballots nationwide. These down-ballot races have been thrust into the national spotlight by the pandemic response, politically charged culture wars (Critical Race Theory, book bans, anti-LGBTQIA+ policies, etc.), civil rights, digital inequity, teacher shortages, and the resulting outbursts and protests that have paved the way for firebrand candidates seeking to turn elections into referendums. 

Increased awareness is the goal since school boards are elected leaders who directly influence kids, families, and communities. However, the attention comes at a price. According to PBS, “school board elections have become a new battleground in American politics, with typically non-partisan races becoming increasingly polarized and garnering national attention.” Many people  now realize that school boards are incredibly powerful in the ways that truly matter to communities, and when ambivalence, low voter turnout, empty seats, and uncontested candidates are the norm, there is a danger that members will be used as political pawns to dismantle public education.

Election 2023

Fortunately, during last week’s election, voters chose community over chaos, rejecting school board candidates who based their campaigns on the national political zeitgeist. According to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), candidates publicly endorsed by conservative groups such as Moms for Liberty and the 1776 Project lost about 70% of their races nationally in elections last week. However, electing liberals and moderates doesn’t ensure that new members are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate a sometimes contentious environment and turn their campaign promises into policy change for kids and communities. 

Electing liberals and moderates doesn’t ensure that new members are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate a sometimes contentious environment and turn their campaign promises into policy change for kids and communities. 

Enter School Board Partners.

School Board Partners 

School Board Partners (SBP) empowers elected school board leaders with the knowledge, skills, and mindset to transform education systems. SBP ensures that newly elected school board members have the support and tools they need to design policies that are grounded in student outcomes and reflect the needs of their districts and students.

Empowered Governance Framework

According to SBP, there has never been a more critical time to strengthen the leadership and governance of our nation’s public schools. This week, School Board Partners released a new school board governance framework and policy toolkit, Empowered Governance

Operating from the belief that school board members are often elected by their communities with a mandate for change, SBP believes governance frameworks must empower members to lead. However, existing governance models are few, antiquated, and do not empower members to step into their roles as policymakers. This is a problem because school board members who are not empowered, well-trained, and supported to govern can quickly become ineffective. 

Empowered Governance is  a new, policy-centered governance model that offers a more accountable, power-balanced, and equity-focused approach to the work of school boards. By supporting sound policymaking and governance practices, this model empowers school boards to empower young people to reach their full potential, while also empowering historically marginalized communities.

This model flips the script by empowering members to step into their policymaking roles to dismantle the status quo systems that aren’t working for kids and communities.

School board members will have the training and support they need to bring their lived experiences and values to the dias, write policy, manage a multimillion (or billion) dollar budget, maintain a proper balance of power with school superintendents, know what questions to ask, know what data to request, and know when to push back.  And as school boards become more community-based, diverse, and equity-focused, this change is necessary.


Empowered Governance is more than just a conceptual framework. It equips school board members with actionable “plug and play” model policies rooted in best practices and rigorous accountability for student outcomes, as well as tools to accelerate their work. Because the policies were created as a package, they are connected and designed to work in concert. The toolkit also clearly defines roles and responsibilities for school board members and the superintendent, which creates an important lever for community members to ensure that leaders stay in their lane and act as good stewards of the public trust. 

Schools, as they exist today, are not working for most kids. School board members are the policymakers and governors of our nation’s public schools and—if they are competent, well-trained, and supported—they have the power to change what our school systems look like alongside the community members who elected them. The Empowered Governance toolkit is a big step forward to finally see the changes we’ve been waiting for. 

To learn more about Empowered Governance, visit School Board Parners and set up a free account to access the first four policies. 

Lisa Hollenbach

Lisa Hollenbach is Senior Digital Manager for Education Post. Prior to joining Education Post, Lisa developed digital and content strategy for Teaching Channel. She served on the Bill and Melinda Gates Teacher Advisory Council from 2014-2017 and was active in the planning and execution of several Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching (ECET2) convenings at both the regional and national level. Lisa attended both private and public schools in Pennsylvania. She is a graduate of the Pennsylvania State University and holds a bachelor’s in secondary education social studies, a bachelor’s in public policy, a minor in women's studies and a master’s in community psychology and social change. A former educator, Lisa taught for more than 15 years in both traditional public school and public charter school settings. She also served as a leader of her local and regional teachers association from 2001-2016. Lisa has worked with several universities throughout her career and is currently an adjunct professor at the Pennsylvania State University, teaching courses in sociology, psychology, education and their intersections. She is passionate about helping education advocates share their stories and creating an equitable education system that serves all students.

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