Education & Government
Jennifer Rose Hale Image
Jennifer Rose Hale
Former Client Partner, Texas Association of School Boards

The keys to effective policy management for school boards

August 21, 2023
0 min read
effective policy management for school boards

School boards have many responsibilities to their district, but above all, they’re visionaries — responsible for developing and supporting a unique vision for their districts. It is this vision that underpins the strategies boards and administrators employ to facilitate student achievement.

By setting school district policies that guide senior administrators, staff, students and parents, school board members work to make the vision achievable. Policies cover every aspect of how the district and its people — including the board — operate.

With school board meetings increasingly subject to cultural and political conflicts, this particular responsibility may have become higher profile and, in some ways, more challenging. But it’s never been easy. Whether the board is addressing granular issues like appliances in classrooms and off-season coaching, or larger issues such as bonds and community taxes, board members must not only make frequent policy decisions, but also predict what their district needs to achieve the board’s vision.

This is the first of a five-part series on policy adoption. Join us while we look at the complexities around this key duty, strategies to make it more successful and how technology can support it.

Why board policies change

Policies support the vision for the district and create a foundation for student academic achievement. There are several reasons boards might adopt, modify or discontinue a policy.

New federal and (especially) state laws will trickle down to school boards, particularly after a legislative session. In this case, most schools and districts will receive language for the new or changed policy from a policy provider, such as a state association. These policies might have minor changes made to reflect the community.

In other cases, a district might have special needs determined by trends or parent feedback (such as the use of AI or social media). In these cases, the district might draft its own policy with legal support, or work with an association.

Boards don’t just add or update existing policies. Removing out-of-date or irrelevant policies is another important management strategy. In a piece for the Equity-Centered Capacity Building Network, Larry Leverett, Panasonic Foundation executive director, advocates for the elimination of unneeded policies:

“A leaner, more focused set of policies gives the equity-driven board a chance to systematically concentrate on a portfolio of high-leverage, equity-based policies to determine system performance and superintendent effectiveness in advancing strategic and tactical strategies and activities designed to improve student learning.”

Policy changes can be high in volume, and these regular changes mean the risk of outdated policy handbooks is substantial. Boards must be thoughtful in their policy management to ensure everyone is literally on the same page.

Tips for effective policy adoption and management

At a core level, policy management needs to support the school board’s vision while embracing transparency, accessibility and flexibility.

Ensure new policies reflect community — but also capture vision. Board members must ensure their district policies adhere with state and federal laws, but they also have discretion within those requirements when it comes to making decisions for their communities — such as dress code guidelines, for example. Parent input influences board decisions (a recent op-ed piece in The Washington Post captures this), but boards must look at the bigger picture of what is best for the entire district to ensure all children have the opportunity to succeed.

Be transparent. Many forms of board transparency are mandated by open meetings laws. But board members can make an effort to ensure, for example, that the decision-making process around new policies is fully accessible to parents and other stakeholders. Ideally, all policy records, including supporting documents and drafts of policy language, should be made available and searchable for public access.

Track dates carefully. A grievance process takes time. School districts can have differing timelines of when grievances are filed, responded to, acted on and resolved. So boards must keep careful records of when policies were in place and when they were retired, in case a policy changes during the timeline of a particular grievance.

Remember that policies aren’t drafted in stone. Nor are they set in stone even once adopted. Board members can expect to debate and revise the language for a policy over time and may vote on it several times before adopting a final version. And boards shouldn’t hesitate to repeal a policy that no longer suits their schools.

How technology can support policy adoption and management

No one — whether they’re a member of the board, staff or community — should ever have difficulty finding a current policy, determining what version of a policy is the most recent one, or which one was in effect during a particular incident or period of time.

Additionally, no board should delay acting on a needed policy change (adoption, revision or retirement) because of a difficult process.

Technology can help in these areas.

Enable online, searchable access

A user-friendly experience should allow board members and others to quickly search for and find the relevant, up-to-date policy.

Clarify policy timelines

Paper manuals or manually maintained website links can go out of date quickly. An online repository with versioning and document history can offer a “single source of truth” that not only puts the current policies front and center, but clearly organizes previous policies as well.

Support the entire policy lifecycle

The policy process is complex — from crafting, edits and reviews, to adoption and publication. A robust digital board management tool can simplify the demands on all contributors to the process, allowing board members to spend more time on substantive discussion.

Look for a familiar word-processing interface for drafts and edits, the ability to attach supporting documents and automated progress and approval tracking with notifications.

Allow granular permissions

Offering multiple roles for contributors and viewers, giving them just the right amount of access for their needs, removes confusion and makes policy work faster.

Ensure digital security

Local governments are a growing target for cybercriminals. Using a modern digital governance tool for board business allows boards to lock down their resources and keep private data private.

Looking ahead

In upcoming pieces, we’ll look at how school boards can efficiently manage policies, build transparency and introduce new policies.

Every school board needs an effective policy process, and technology can make it possible. We at Diligent understand the needs of the modern school board, and Diligent Community Policy Publisher is specially designed to make your board’s policy management and adoption even more streamlined.


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