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AJ Crabill to School Boards: Put the Focus on Student Success

  • AJ Crabill, the director of governance for the Council of the Great City Schools, is author of a new book that aims to set local school boards on a path of continuous improvement to the benefit of student achievement.AJ Crabill

    The book, titled Great on Their Behalf (subtitled Why School Boards Fail, How Yours Can Become Effective), first lays out ways school boards fail to focus on student outcomes, then offers guidance on ways to effectively refocus priorities.

    In a nutshell: Less on buses, facilities, and such; more on strategies and mindsets to boost the odds the children in local schools will find success in the classroom and in life. 

    “School board members want what’s best for the children in their community, but often struggle with finding a way to get there. This book is intended to be that guide,” Crabill wrote in an email interview with the Urban Educator.

    His focus on improving school board governance stemmed, initially, from his experience serving on the school board for Missouri’s Kansas City Public Schools, expanded in work as an advocate for excellence in school governance, to his current post with the Council, conducting training sessions for school board members in big-city school districts.

    “I wrote this book in part because it’s the book I wish I had when I joined my board, and because it is an intentional step in the direction of accelerating the national transition from adult input focused school boards to student outcomes focused school boards,” Crabill said. “The more people we can engage in this conversation, the more students will benefit.”

    The book offers a framework for school board members to clarify and redefine their roles.
    “There will always be difficult trade-offs in school system leadership. That’s a given. What is in question is whose needs will be at the center of the school board’s decision-making processes,” he writes in the introduction.

    “When school boards center adult wants and adult preference above all else, children suffer. When school boards refuse to make the hard choices that improvements in student outcomes require, children don’t experience educational justice. But it’s also the case that when school boards become intensely focused on improving student outcomes, they can create the conditions for incredible improvements in student outcomes.”

    Crabill states his view emphatically: “Every challenge a school board faces can be addressed through becoming intensely focused on improving student outcomes.”

    Crabill, in the book and in his work, urges professional development for school board members to acquire knowledge and skills to put the focus on improving student outcomes – and keep it there.

    He laments that too many school boards are “professionally ineffective” because they fail to inspire improvements in instruction that would result in improvements in what students know and are able to do.  

    “My aspiration in writing this book is that school board members nationwide will be encouraged by real stories and a real framework for how to make their aspirations for students a reality,” said Crabill.

    As he says in the book, “School systems only exist to improve student outcomes.” Crabill seeks to guide school boards to that kind of success.

    The book will be available for purchase March 28. During the first week, March 28-April 3, all profits will be donated to DonorsChoose.org to support teachers.