The school board effect: How trustees can impact student success

Dr. Aaron Reich, President of the Board of Trustees at Arlington ISD

Dr. Aaron Reich, President of the Board of Trustees at Arlington ISD.

If leadership sets the tone for an entire organization, then school boards play a critical role in the strength of our Texas public schools.

Recent research has shown that school boards can have an effect ­­—positive or negative — on student outcomes. The impact is not direct like a teacher or school leader but stems from creating the right conditions for excellence to flourish and setting high expectations of success.

Here’s the interesting thing – whether a board improves student outcomes depends first on whether they believe they are capable of having such an effect.

Jake Cohen, School Board and Community Engagement Specialist, The Holdsworth Center

Jake Cohen, School Board and Community Engagement Specialist at The Holdsworth Center.

Next, boards must be equipped with the technical and leadership skills to create and achieve a shared vision for students in their school district. One approach is the concept of Balanced Governance defined by researchers Phil Gore and Thomas Asbury.

“Balanced Governance is not a single prescribed model or program, but describes a school governance approach that supports and promotes ‘balance’— discouraging micromanaging on one end and a disengaged, rubber-stamping board on the other.” (Gore and Asbury, 2015)

In a recent report, the Center for Public Education analyzed the behaviors of successful school boards across the country and distilled them into a list of best practices. Their findings listed a number of actions and behaviors that impact student outcomes, such as:

  • Committing to a high expectation of achievement and outcomes
  • Being accountability driven and less focused on operational decisions
  • Understanding how to use data effectively
  • Leading as a team with the superintendent
  • Taking part in team training and development to build shared knowledge, values and commitments

This summer, The Holdsworth Center invited trustees from our seven partner districts to attend a program session to engage in learning alongside their district leaders.

“It turned out to be a…much more robust program than I would ever have imagined,” said James Steenbergen, a trustee at Lamar CISD. To hear more about their experience, watch the video below.


The Holdsworth Center has also begun conducting “Team of Eight” training workshops with our partner district boards who are interested in learning more about leadership development, and we are working with Lamar CISD on a board-driven strategic planning process. Learn more about Lamar’s efforts in the video below.



As critical components of a leadership team, the school board is a contributor to and a bellwether of a successful district culture.

If we hope to deliver the best possible results for students, our school boards must be united and unified with the superintendent in creating an approach to leadership and governance that overcomes challenges to put the needs of students first.