California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II

School District Leadership

“In the high-achieving districts, the board/superintendent team and school personnel consistently expressed an “elevating” view of students. Students were viewed as emerging and flexible and the school’s job was seen as releasing each student’s potential.”1

District offices and local governing boards oversee the operations of schools in their jurisdiction and are responsible for balancing resources between schools. “Although the California public schools system is a statewide system under the policy direction of the Legislature, more local responsibility is legally granted to school districts and county education officials than to other government entities and officials . . . laws relating to local schools occupy a unique constitutional position. Under this ‘permissive education code,’ as long as statutes do not prohibit the program or activity and it is consistent with the purposes for which school districts are established, it can be undertaken. In other words, it is constitutionally unnecessary to enact any statutes that merely allow or permit school districts, at their discretion, to do something.”2

Research has shown that specific district conditions influence student learning. Those conditions include, for example, district culture, the provision of professional development opportunities for teachers, and policies governing the leadership succession. Districts also contribute to student learning by ensuring alignment among goals, programs, policies, and professional development.3

According to the Springboard Schools research on “H2” schools (those that are both high performing and high poverty), “High performing middle grades schools in California tend to be clustered in particular school districts, and the district’s role in alignment appears to be an important reason for this fact. Districts can play a key role in creating the structures that support greater K-12 articulation and alignment in general.”4

Related Links

Regional System of District and School Support (RSDSS)

Local Governing Boards

1 Lighthouse Study: School Boards and Student Achievement (Outside Source), Iowa Association of School Boards Compass, Vol. V, No. 2 (Fall 2000), 4.
2 “Local Control,” from the 2006 Fact Book: Handbook of Education Information (PDF; 856KB; pp.137). Sacramento: California Department of Education, 2005, 17.
3 Kenneth Leithwood, Karen Seashore Louis, Stephen Anderson, and Kyla Wahlstrom, Learning from Leadership Project: Executive Summary—How leadership influences student learning (PDF; Outside Source). University of Minnesota: Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, for the Wallace Foundation, 2004, 11.
4 Balancing Act: Best Practices in the Middle Grades (Executive Summary). San Francisco: Springboard Schools, Spring 2007, 4.

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