May/June 2019

Ask the Staff: How does the new member merge with the current board?

By Reatha Owen

IASB Senior Field Services Director Reatha Owen answers the question for this issue of the Journal.

New board members, I’d like to offer you a warm welcome to the world of school board service.

Every other year, most school boards gain at least one new member, and some may acquire a new majority of four or more members. Each member of the board has the potential to make an important contribution to the board. Collectively, the board has the potential to create a high-performance team that focuses on governing the district.

Boards have the important ongoing job of moving the district forward and making certain every child is learning. This work does not stop when a new member joins the team. So how does the new member merge with the current board? It starts with having sound policies that govern the district. These policies establish the governance culture of the board, describe the board/superintendent relationship, clarify the operational expectations for the organization, and monitors progress. Taken together, they provide clear direction for the district.

Let’s get started by looking at two items that will assist you in merging with your governance team. The first addresses an orientation to the district and public education. The second is learning how the board works together through board protocols.


Orientation is a chance to speed up the learning curve and get you engaged in the board’s activities. Orientation benefits the board as a team by providing an official launch for new partnerships and relationships.

Typically, orientation involves face-to-face meetings with the superintendent and board president. New members may have some familiarity with the organization, but it’s always helpful to have a better understanding of the district’s history as well as getting familiar with the district’s mission, vision, goals (strategic plan), and policies. Getting a full measure of the education world in general, and district finances in particular, can take some time. Understanding school finance with an emphasis on funding, budgeting, and expenditures is a board responsibility; this is how the board manages and maintains the financial health of the school district. During your orientation and as you move forward in your board work, don’t be afraid to ask questions — this is how you grow in your role on the team. You may ask for a board mentor who is available to answer questions as you learn your work as a board member. A mentoring relationship can be particularly helpful in explaining the history behind controversial board issues or past changes or board decisions.

School board protocols

As a governing team, the board is responsible for its activity and behavior. Using board protocols, the board is able to communicate collective expectations on how the board and superintendent agree to communicate and handle their duties. In short, board protocols answer the question, “How will we work together?”

These protocols provide a structure by which the board and superintendent can interact during meetings, between meetings, handling complaints or concerns, use of social media, and more. It ensures that every member is functioning within the same framework and with the same expectations. Board protocols also hold everyone accountable to the governance team. New members, ask if your board has developed board protocols in your orientation meetings, or you can find them in your district’s policy manual.

The keys to a high-performing board include knowing how to do its job effectively, focusing on continuous improvement, and pursuing professional development as a governance team. IASB is here to assist you in your board role.

Best wishes to new school board members as you merge with your team in making your district a success.