Board Member Onboarding | Effective School Boards
PreBoarding > Onboarding

Don’t wait to begin training new board members until after they’ve been sworn in! If you do so, you’ll have already missed the best window for training. Stop relying on onboarding; start preboarding. Create an expectation that you will cover the Improving Student Outcomes section of this document with all new board members prior to them filing paperwork to serve. This section details the board member behaviors that most create the conditions for improved student outcomes, highlights how feelings can be unreliable for creating student focused schools, and should be the foundation of all preboarding / onboarding work.

The subsequent sections – Creating Alignment and Other Duties As Assigned – can wait until closer to or after selection. These sections describe board member behaviors that have a moderate impact and that tend to have a neutral impact, respectively, on creating the conditions that improve student outcomes. Collectively, these three sections outline the content that new school board members will most need to be successful during their first six months. It’s often helpful to create a shared folder with any readings for these sections in it. The learning will never end; preboarding and onboarding aren’t intended to convey 100% of what board members need to know. But when done well, it will set them up to have the positive impact on students they wanted when they first chose to be on the school board.

One additional note about preboarding and onboarding: assign each new Board member a mentor. Ideally this is a current Board member who has been on the Board for at least half a term — preferably a full term. Where other Board members are mentioned below, the ideal person to complete that section would be the new member’s mentor.

Improving Student Outcomes

Types of Governing Bodies

  • School boards aren’t necessarily like other boards that new members have served on.

Why School Systems, School Boards, and Superintendents Exist

  • Board members should walk through these topics, including clarifying the difference between how the Board benefits students and how the Superintendent benefits students with each new board member. Should provide clarity about the transition from campaigning to governing.

Goal Setting

  • Board members should walk through how to set goals, the process used to establish the current goals, and time timeline for adopting new goals with each new board member.

Goal Monitoring

  • Board members should walk through each existing Board-adopted goal one by one with each new board member. This overview should include the Board’s timeline and process for monitoring progress over time.

Board Annual Self Evaluation

  • The Board Chair should walk through the Board’s annual self evaluation instrument with each new board member.

Superintendent Annual Evaluation

  • The Board Chair should walk through the Superintendent’s annual evaluation instrument with each new board member.

Current Strategic Plan

  • The Superintendent should go through the current Strategic Plan with each new Board member -- the plan that describes how the Superintendent will accomplish the board’s adopted goals.
Creating Alignment

Agenda Setting and Board Calendar

  • A Board member should explain the process for the agenda being constructed and for requesting items to be added. This should include going over the Board’s desired time use priorities and the Board’s annual calendar.

Budget Adoption & School Finance

  • The role of the board regarding budgets is to ensure that district finances prioritize the goals.

Information Requests and Contact Information

  • A Board member should explain the process for requesting information and what types of requests would be out of bounds. Each new board member should also be provided a list of contact information for all Board members, the Superintendent, whomever on staff at the school system provides direct support to the Board, the Board’s attorney, and any other individuals who report directly to the Board.

School System Technology

  • An IT staff member or the board support staff should provide each new Board member with their school system-issued technology (badge, phone, tablet, laptop, etc), an orientation on how to use it, and who to call if they need help with the technology.

Board Handbook/Procedure Manual

  • A Board member should walk through the entire handbook/manual page by page with new members -- especially sections about communication with community and staff.

State Required Planning Documents

  • If the state requires a district-wide improvement plan of some sort (separate from the Strategic Plan) share a copy. This, however, is often less vital than reviewing the Strategic Plan.

School System Organizational Overview

  • Just cover the Superintendent and their direct reports
  • The Superintendent and each direct report can provide a 1-pager that shares a 1 paragraph bio, a bullet list of the departments for which they’re responsible, and a bullet list of the 1-5 most important change initiatives they are currently leading.
Other Duties As Assigned


  • Each new Board member should be supplied with a 1-pager detailing current points of pride.

Ethics Training

  • The Board’s attorney or another appropriate individual should orient each new Board member on state and school system ethical obligations. Once complete, all new Board members should also sign the Board conflict of interest and disclosure documents.

Opening Meetings and Public Records

  • The Board’s attorney or another appropriate individual should orient each new Board member on state laws regarding open meetings and public records — both requests and retention requirements.

Roberts Rules

  • The Board’s attorney or another appropriate individual should orient each new Board member on how the Board implements meeting management (Robert’s Rules isn’t a governance model). Ideally a 1-pager with sample motion information and language would be provided.

Concerns About Superintendent or Board Member Performance

  • The Board Chair should explain the process for how to address complaints about the performance of the Superintendent or of fellow Board members.

Media Training

  • While the Board Chair should be the official spokesperson for the Board, each Board member should have some capacity and practice with how best to respond to inquiries whether from professional media or social media. Key skills include staying on message and pivoting back to message.

Legally Required Trainings

  • Some states have trainings that are required by state law or regulations but that aren’t covered in the above items. An appropriate trainer should be identified to provide those within the mandated timeline.