Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing: Lessons About Effective School Board Governance from Napa Valley and San José Unified School Districts

Marina Castro

The many pressures facing school districts—academic and social-emotional recovery from the pandemic, educator shortages, fragmented funding streams and programs, and more—can easily overwhelm educators and distract from the core work of instruction and student learning. Locally elected school boards, the governing bodies responsible for setting district policy, can play an instrumental role in establishing and maintaining focus in a school district’s work. 

Running an election is easy…It’s the legislating part that’s really hard.  

- José Magaña, San José Unified School District Trustee

As a counterpoint to the increasingly common media reports on school boards that highlight dysfunction and disruption, this report profiles two California school districts—Napa Valley and San José Unified School Districts—that have collaborative and productive approaches to governance. The practices and lessons learned from these two school districts can help governance teams across the country work together to establish and maintain focus on their highest priorities. 

In addition to the report, we are proud to share insights from four California Collaborative members in a companion piece titled Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing: Reflections from the Field. These leaders in K-12 education lend their perspectives from careers in research, practice, and advocacy to help situate lessons from the report in the context of their work.