Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

A parent’s life is a full one, and the idea of attending a school board meeting may not make it onto many parents’ radars. But it should—whether you have kids who go to public school, have kids who may in the future, or even don’t have kids in the public schools. 

School boards are the governing bodies for public school districts in the United States. How (and how well) they run those schools affects the students, the community, the future workforce and citizenry, and even neighborhood property values. 

Attending a school board meeting allows you to impact decision-making on issues from what kids learn and read to how they stay safe and the use of school-owned properties. It lets you make your voice heard on policies that govern the schools and to ensure accountability of those in charge. And it gives you the chance to learn about issues facing your district and how you can help. 

Impact Your Community’s Schools

The decisions your local school board makes will affect the students throughout their lives, as well as impacting the future of your community. A school board without input from a diverse cross-section of parents is hindered in its ability to make a cohesive vision for the children it serves. 

The school board’s vision shapes the version of the world presented to the kids in your community and the preparation they get for living in it. It shapes what the children are taught—about history, inclusion, science, safety, and all kinds of topics. It shapes their experience—which books they use, the clothes they’re allowed to wear, and the food they’re offered at school. It even dictates how early students need to get up in the morning to make it to class. 

What’s more, parental involvement in the educational system correlates with improved student achievement, according to numerous studies. Attending school board meetings is a key way to get involved and make a positive impact.

In addition to setting a vision for the local schools, the board is also responsible for selecting the district superintendent, who handles the day-to-day running of the district, including staffing, spending, and programs. The superintendent implements the decisions made by the school board and is responsible for developing procedures and policies that support the board’s goals. In many districts, public opinion—often garnered at school board meetings—is taken into consideration when appointing the superintendent.

Make Your Voice Heard

School board meetings generally end with a public comment period, when community members may make brief statements to the board. This is an opportunity to weigh in on the decisions the board faces, from hiring a district superintendent or budgeting to setting curriculum or schedules.

Parents with a concern that their child’s school is unable or unwilling to resolve often may address the board members during the public comment period. So may individuals with comments about programs or other topics, and even students themselves, who bring a valuable perspective. Each person gets just a few minutes to speak, so this method is best for quick comments. Be sure to check on the rules ahead of time: Speakers may be required to sign up at the beginning of the meeting or to log onto video meetings early to get a slot, for example.

Community members and groups who want to facilitate large changes in their district can request to get on the agenda for future meetings. Community members mobilizing around an idea have effected bigger-picture changes in various school districts, and communities working in conjunction with school boards have often made changes to school policy. 

Ensure Accountability

An effective school board balances academic achievement with the health and wellbeing of the students and the community’s diverse beliefs and values. Having community members weigh in on the issues ensures that board members make informed decisions and understand the desires of their constituents. 

School boards are made up of a handful of individuals from the communities they serve. They’re a small sample of people representing a much larger population. Most school board members are elected, and attending school board meetings will help you recognize which board members vote in line with your values, as well as let you hear from them directly on timely issues. 

Only 10 percent of voters make their voices heard by voting in school board elections, yet these officials are responsible for shaping the next generation and the future of their communities. Knowing more about your candidates and the issues they support can help you feel more confident voting in the next election.

Participating in school board meetings also offers an avenue for holding district leadership and school staff accountable, as well as for ensuring transparency and community oversight of budgeting and other important topics.

Get Informed and Support Your Local Schools

You can learn a great deal of useful information by attending a school board meeting. In addition to getting to know the board members and candidates, you’ll become informed about all kinds of issues affecting your local schools and community. 

Academic progress is the central responsibility of the school board, but board members also consider issues affecting the mental, physical, and emotional health of the district’s students. They make decisions that directly affect the broader neighborhood, too, from how to use non-school property that the district may own to safety decisions that affect the whole area.

Finally, you can learn about the greatest needs in your school district, where staff or students are struggling, and what kind of help your schools need to allow students to thrive. This will give you crucial knowledge about how you can support the district in educating the next generation and building a healthy, successful community.

How Can I Participate in Local School Board Meetings?

Each school district in the United States is governed by a small board, typically of about three to seven members. Most school districts select their school board members by public election, but in a few districts, mayors appoint board members. 

Information about your district’s board should be posted on the school district website, including the locations and times of school board meetings. The majority of school board meetings are open to the public. (Just check ahead about any special requirements for attendance, such as bringing proof of vaccination or other rules.)

Parents and other community members who are unable to attend meetings in-person may be able to access the proceedings elsewhere. Meetings are often broadcast online or on local cable or radio channels. You can also look online to find agendas for upcoming meetings and minutes from past ones. 

How do you support your local schools? Let us know!