Some of you may have heard our executive director and CEO, Dr. Timothy Purnell, highlight a renewed commitment to returning to basics. In the New Jersey School Boards Association’s Weekend Orientation, we provide attendees with a few key points that our staff have found provide new board members with a solid foundation as they begin their new role. Some of these tips also apply to veteran board members as they begin the journey with new members. Over the course of this year, the Professional Learning team will highlight some of these tips and how they can help all board members succeed. 

Review the board operations section of your district’s policy manual.

Policy is the language of the board table. Board members govern the district through policy – and taking the time to learn the policies that apply to your role as a board member is imperative. It allows you to model for your district the importance policy plays in the educational community you help govern. As a member of the district leadership team, knowing the rules of conduct will also improve your working relationships. Those policies allow all members to voice their questions and ideas appropriately, ensuring each member feels they are part of the process. 

Know your board member code of ethics and conduct. 

NJSBA has programs dedicated to the School Ethics Act and the Code of Conduct. Take the time to attend these programs and learn how your new role changes what you “should” be doing – even when it may be different than what you “can be doing.” 

Assume your position with an open mind. 

You have been elected to provide a thorough and efficient education to the students of your district. Your reasons for running for this position are important and may have been part of your campaign. Now that you are seated, you are one member of the board of education. As such, it is important for you to leave preconceived notions or hidden agendas behind. This extends to the personal feelings you may have about the superintendent, teachers, staff members and other board members. You are now a member of this team. It is important you come to the role open to discussion and learning. If you are a new member, you need to be open to the idea that your perceptions from the audience were potentially misguided or wrong, since you did not have all information. If you are a board member who has an excited community member who is now on the team, you should be open to the idea that they have ideas that could help advance and improve the district – or that some of their perceptions could change as they learn new information. 

This does not mean you cannot discuss and disagree. Those conversations are important, but they should be based on the agenda topic – not past practice. They should also be grounded in good faith, that each of you is working toward a resolution that is in the best interest of the educational community. 

It is also important to remember that the role of board member is a nonpartisan, nonpolitical position. You are responsible to provide a thorough and efficient education to all students in your district. Each time you sit at your board table, you are working for every child. Sometimes your decisions impact the athletic children, sometimes they impact the artistic children, sometimes they impact the academically advanced children, and sometimes it is those who are most vulnerable in your district. Every time, you should be ensuring that you have made a decision that is in the best interest of the children’s academic achievement. 

Be prepared to be overwhelmed with documents to read, unfamiliar jargon and the time you will spend doing your job as a board member. 

Your time as a board member will be filled reading reports, attending meetings, hearing many acronyms and jargon you may not understand. Do not hesitate to ask what something means, or reach out for clarification on a report. It is important that you understand what you are voting on and how it impacts the students and community. NJSBA provides new board members with a list of acronyms in its Governance I book as well as in its Fundamentals of School Boardsmanship. (Visit to access a copy.)

These are a few of the staff tips to help both new board members and veteran board members succeed. NJSBA is here to help support you on your journey through professional learning opportunities, publications and direct support. 

Marcia Lavigne is the senior manager of the Professional Learning Division at the New Jersey School Boards Association.