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Understanding School Districts

If schools use Meaningful Student Involvement as an organizing construct, they have to teach students about the structure of education, including school districts. In the United States and Canada, a school district is the governing administration unit serving a particular geographic area. Public school district boundaries are determined by state education agencies, and include between one and 100 schools, including elementary, middle or junior, and high schools.


The purpose of public school districts in North America is to implement a democratic system of public education. Every state in the U.S. and province in Canada has districts of some form, with some following county governments and boundaries while others carve up cities in several ways. Generally, their purpose remains the same.


School districts are organized in several ways. They include:

  • District School Board: Local residents are voted into office on a public board of education serving the school district. They meet weekly, bi-weekly or monthly to control the finances of schools, curriculum in schools, facilities for schools and personnel serving schools. The board is responsible for hiring and supervising the district superintendent. The district school board is ultimately accountable to the voters who elect them.
  • District Superintendent: The school district superintendent is the leader of all public schools, and is ultimately accountable to the elected school board that hired them. In turn, they hire people to manage schools under them that form the school district office staff. They also hire the leaders of individual schools – principals.
  • District Staff: In most school districts with enough students, the superintedent needs to hire people to help them get work done. These people can include assistant superintendents, financial officials, legal counsel, technology specialists, curriculum and assessment and student support services staff, and others. They support principals and teachers in administering specific government grants focused on serving low-income students, students of different abilities, homeless students and others. They often act
  • Principals: Districts only exist to administer individual schools. The leaders of these buildings are principals, at the elementary, middle and high school levels. Principals are responsible for ensuring students are effectively educated, and ultimately responsible for ensuring district voters’ wishes for schools are enacted. Hiring teachers, school support staff and others, principals also make sure teachers receive the ongoing educations they need to serve students.

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