Book Review

The Essential School Board Book

Better Governance in the Age of Accountability

by Nancy Walser, Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2009, 143 pp. with index, $49.95 hardcover, $24.95 softcover

Superintendents devote considerable time and effort to working with their school boards to ensure quality school system governance. Nancy Walser, a former school board member in Cambridge, Mass., succinctly captures the essence of the school board role in The Essential School Board Book by documenting successful school board practices in districts with cultures that focus on student success.


Using the results of research and personal experience, Walser captures the core competencies of successful school board service. She identifies key action strategies for effective governance in a range of systems, accompanied by commentary from both board members and superintendents. She also provides valuable insight on how their shared leadership roles can build an effective school district culture.

Walser affirms that a key school board role in systems leadership is “finding and keeping effective superintendents” and that such effort “poses a critical challenge or school boards.” She also devotes significant attention to the board-superintendent relationship by capturing the tension between board and superintendent collaboration. She identifies the risk that such collaboration may create an inappropriate perception that the board is routinely rubber-stamping the superintendent’s recommendations.

This study of school system govern-ance provides practical counsel to both board members and superintendents. The clarity of Walser’s message provides powerful guidance to aspiring board members and superintendents, but it also is beneficial to the veterans who may be experiencing these lessons by trial and error.

Reviewed by Brian L. Benzel, vice president for finance and administration, Whitworth University, Spokane, Wash.