By an overwhelming majority of votes in the recent referendum, Montclair voters chose an elected school board over an appointed school board. We now have nine persons who have stepped forward to run for a seat on the Board of Education. But what exactly is the role of the school board and that of the school superintendent?

The school board is responsible for: employing the superintendent; developing and adopting policies, goals, objectives, curriculum, budget and bonding; and overseeing facilities issues.

These are the practical aspects of the school board function. The overarching responsibility of the school board is to represent the concerns of the citizens, taxpayers and parents to the superintendent and business administrators and, on the flip side, to represent the needs of the students and school district to the citizens, taxpayers and parents.

The school board is not responsible for taking action on individual matters taking place in a child’s class or with a child’s teacher, or among a child’s classmates. The correct protocol for such instances is to contact these sources in this order: teacher, principal, superintendent.

The role of the superintendent is to act as the district’s chief executive with responsibilities that include: implementation of the school board's vision by making day-to-day decisions about educational programs, spending, staff and facilities; and hiring, supervising, and managing the central staff and principals.

The school board holds the superintendent responsible for implementing the policies and achieving the goals established by the school board. A good way to think about these two distinct roles is to look at the structure of the typical business organization, which has a board of directors (school board) and chief executive officer (school superintendent.)

But what makes for an effective school board?

Research has shown that an effective school board must have high expectations for student achievement, commit to quality instruction and articulate clear goals to fulfill that vision. The school board must be held accountable for communicating and achieving this vision. Less time should be spent on operational issues and more time focused on developing and implementing policies to improve student achievement.

A collaborative relationship with staff, the teachers union and the community is vital. The collection, analysis distribution and use of informational data, even if negative, must be used to drive continuous improvement. Teachers are the boots on the ground that serve to implement the school board’s vision; appropriate and sustained professional development must align with the goals of the school board. The roles and relationship of the school board and superintendent must be respected, and collaboration and mutual trust fostered. The school board members themselves must strive to act as a united team to mold shared values, formulate agreed to goals and build mutual respect.

We look forward to learning about the nine Board of Education candidates and the vision of each for the Montclair schools. The League of Women Voters of the Montclair Area is holding a virtual candidate forum on Feb. 17 at 7 p.m., where candidates can respond to questions from the community.

Carmel Loughman
Communications director, League of Women Voters of the Montclair Area


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