Top Three Principles of School Board Success

Recently, I spoke with a researcher who was writing a book on school board leadership. She asked me the top three things I wished all school board members knew. For a moment, I didn’t know where to begin. School directors are faced with so many competing priorities that it feels impossible to come up with only three things to help them succeed in all or even most situations.

But, being challenged to choose so few helped me unearth those that are the most foundational. With 19 years of serving on a school board and more than a decade of working with boards as a trainer and a consultant, here are the three things I urge every school director to take to heart.

First and foremost, it’s essential to recognize that school boards have a profound and lasting impact on student outcomes. This is not a mere assertion, but a statement backed by almost two decades of research. The attitudes, beliefs, and actions of school boards shape the trajectory of their students’ lives, often in ways that may not be immediately apparent but can reverberate for decades within a district. Therefore, it’s crucial to consider the legacy you want your board to leave and act accordingly.

Secondly, it’s imperative to understand that a board that primarily focuses on adult issues is failing its students. A truly effective school board is one that maintains a disciplined focus on the factors that either support or hinder students’ success. This requires unwavering resolve and persistence, especially when the loudest voices you hear are from adults. Therefore, it’s essential to actively seek out students and listen to their perspectives.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that students are observant. They take note of how they are treated and how board members interact with each other. They perceive what the board prioritizes and whether it listens and responds respectfully to diverse viewpoints. Your words and actions, even your demeanor during a school tour, all serve as a model for the district. Consider if you are embodying the behavior that you hope your students will emulate.

School directors get pulled in a million directions by constituents, school staff, and sometimes even politics, but centering yourself on the things that are shown to impact student success can keep you grounded in doing the right work. If you’re not sure what those things are, then look no further than the research-based Washington School Board Standards and any of the trainings and supports offered by WSSDA. And when faced with those loud adult voices pulling you off your primary mission of serving students, it’s okay to say, “I appreciate your input, and I’ll keep it in mind as we focus on the board’s core work.

Written by WSSDA Director of Leadership Development Tricia Lubach, this article was first appeared in the Spring 2024 issue of WSSDA Direct. Visit to see all the latest issues of WSSDA’s newsmagazine.