The School System

Public schools are operated at the state level through departments of education, and locally by school districts and publicly elected or appointed school boards. This section will provide details on the various school personnel, school system funding and policies.

Building and District Leaders

When your child first begins school, it is helpful to know the roles various school personnel play in the operation of the educational process. As in other organizations, there is a hierarchy of those roles. Since most of your communication will take place in your child’s individual school, the employees there are the main ones about whom you need to know. The district office also has personnel assigned to support the building administration, teachers, staff, and students, as well as parents and guardians.

The following lists show titles of personnel that may be in these two locations: Individual Schools and District Office.

In a typical school, teachers are supervised and evaluated by the principal; if there are assistant principals, they support the principal by helping to supervise and evaluate teachers. The principal reports to the superintendent who in turn reports to the school board. The subject area and grade level consultants or directors provide support to schools by assisting with current information critical to making sure school personnel have the resources needed to provide the best educational opportunities to students.

Whom should you contact regarding questions or concerns about your child’s education?

The best person to contact if you have questions about your child’s school experience is his or her teacher. If you need more support or are unable to reach the teacher, contact the school office for an appointment with the building administration. They will provide the help and information you need. It is possible that you will want to talk with someone at the district office if you feel you need more information than you receive at the building level. In that case, a phone call to the district office is appropriate. Their operator will connect you to the best person for meeting your need.

The principal is the person in charge of the individual school. He or she is not only the instructional leader, but also is the manager of the facility’s day-to-day operation. Assistant principals help to make sure the many responsibilities of the main principal are met quickly and completely.

A partial list of a principal’s duties follows:

  • Monitor arrival and departure of students to and from the building
  • Visit classrooms
  • Conduct teacher observations multiple times during the year
  • Hold meetings with parents, students, community members, and school staff
  • Develop the school’s budget to submit for approval by the district office
  • Monitor the security of the campus
  • Manage the operation of the building and oversee the custodial staff duties
  • Meet with and approve activities of parent and community support organizations such as PTA or Partners in Education
  • Attend extra-curricular activities before and after school hours

Instructional Leadership
The principal is the primary instructional leader of his or her school. Working with teams of teachers and other administrators, the principal gives final approval to the school’s overall vision and academic goals. Every stakeholder in the school can be part of carrying out these goals; parents are included in the process through parent-school organizations, volunteer opportunities, and other activities determined by the building’s leadership team. Everyone works together to improve student opportunities for success both academically and socially. Other duties for which the principal is responsible follow, though each district is responsible for the actual assignment of administrators’ duties.

As the leader of the school, the principal is responsible for managing and developing building processes and policies with the permissions allowed by the federal, state, district, and local laws and guidelines. With the building administrative and leadership teams, the principal sets the school’s activity calendar, manages budget items, oversees distribution of resources, approves schedules/programs, and assigns responsibilities among staff members.

School safety is of primary importance to everyone involved in the school. In addition to maintaining basic security procedures, the safety of a school requires students to adhere to the building rules and guidelines. The principal ensures that school rules are understood and followed; a behavior guide or code of conduct is available for all children and parents to read.

Hiring, Supervising, Evaluating
The principal is responsible for everyone who works in the building. The principal hires teachers and other staff members, evaluates them with the help of assistant principals and other designated evaluators, and recommends termination when warranted. Also, he or she is in charge of ensuring that everyone on the staff completes all required annual professional development hours.

The principal oversees the communication among everyone involved with the school. This includes the school board, district office personnel, professional organizations, educational groups, college and career-training institutions, community members, local businesses, teachers & staff, parents, and students.

Superintendents work with the State Department of Education, the local school board, the district leadership team, and community advisory councils to develop district goals. It is their responsibility to provide the overall leadership that maintains the direction in which the larger team plans for student success. He or she maintains communication with all principals in the district ensuring the continuity of plans for daily management of schools, implementation of budgets, and focus on student learning.

The school board hires the superintendent or director. While the board oversees making policy and ensuring that it is carried out, the superintendent is responsible for actually making the district run smoothly while following the policies. Some districts may have assistant, deputy, or associate superintendents who are responsible for overseeing specific areas of the business of education such as curriculum.

Some basic responsibilities of a superintendent follow:

  • Policy development and implementation
  • Administration
  • Recommendation and evaluation of staff
  • Budget
  • Facilities maintenance
  • Communication

Policy Development and Implementation
The superintendent keeps the school board informed about needed policies. That information comes from various sources, including but not limited to fellow administrators, school and community leadership teams and committees, and legislators. Upon board acceptance of the superintendent’s recommendation, he or she develops and carries out the logistics of implementing the new policy.

The superintendent is the lead administrator and manager of all district operations.

Recommendation and Evaluation of Staff
The superintendent makes the official recommendations for staff to be hired. He or she completes and files district staff evaluations, and also recommends the renewal, nonrenewal, and dismissal of staff (following requirements of federal, state, and district policy).

The superintendent develops a budget and presents it to the board for approval. Once approved, the superintendent presents the budget to the funding body for approval and appropriation of the necessary funding. The superintendent may also meet with the budget team to make revisions as necessary. Once the budget is approved and funded, the superintendent oversees its implementation.

Facilities Maintenance
The superintendent is in charge of leading the discussions, plans, communication, and presentation of information regarding the maintenance of, management of, and improvements to all district buildings and facilities.

The superintendent is ultimately responsible for communication with any individuals and groups involved in the school district. This includes political leaders, state and local education association officers, State Department of Education staff, Centers of Regional Excellence (CORE) employees, parents, board members, principals, teachers, business owners, and the media.

Tennessee school board members are elected by the community to make and to oversee critical decisions about the school district. Though the State Department of Education is the primary responsible agent for overseeing education in Tennessee, local school boards are charged with overseeing the governance of education with each district or school community. School boards work with the individual needs of their district, following guidelines and laws set forth by the federal and state governments, the State Department of Education, and the State Board of Education.

The relationship of the school board to voters and to superintendents is outlined in the following chart:

Some basic responsibilities of a school board follow:

  • Adopt goals; set priorities; monitor success
  • Adopt policies
  • Hire and evaluate the superintendent or director of schools
  • Adopt a budget
  • Communication with the community

Adopt Goals; Set Priorities; Monitor Success
The school board’s adopted goals and priorities set the tone for the entire district. With positive attention to maintaining high standards and an array of quality opportunities for students and employees, the board is able to see ongoing growth that builds a stronger community of learners. The board conducts regular meetings during which the members review updates from administrators on the state of the district’s services, facilities, and goals.

The board has a vision statement shared with all stakeholders to guide it when setting goals.

An example of a vision statement is:
“All students will be globally competitive, lifelong learners, and responsible citizens.”

Examples of goals to support the vision are:

  • Improve Achievement for All Students
  • Support Faculty and Staff as Leaders and Innovators of Learning
  • Partner with Our District and Community for Student Success
  • Improve Technology as a Means of Supporting Staff and Students

Adopt policies
School boards are the primary group that determines how the district functions because they consider and adopt the policies that are followed throughout the schools. The policies they approve follow federal and state laws, so all decisions made within the district are in compliance with those laws. Once district policy is determined, the school leaders make decisions within the scope of what is allowed.

Hire and Evaluate the Superintendent or Director of Schools
The school board’s decision on whom to appoint as superintendent or director of schools is one of the most critical actions they take. Having the right person in place to carry out the approved policies with leadership that fits all stakeholders makes the operation of the educational system work effectively and efficiently. While the board ensures that the district operates under the law in the best interest of every person in the community directly or indirectly involved in the school system, it is the superintendent who is the face of the school system. The board works carefully to make the best selection for all involved. Each year, as part of their responsibility to keep the direction of the district positive and effective, the board evaluates the superintendent’s work toward achieving the district goals.

Adopt a Budget
The superintendent and his or her leadership team prepare and submit a school district budget to the board for approval. The board reviews the submission, accepts, rejects, or makes recommendations for revision based on the available funds. The superintendent makes any necessary changes. The board reviews the budget again and, if no further changes are needed, adopts the budget.

Communication with the Community
Because board members are not school district employees, they better serve the public interests in school-related issues. Thus, they are a critical part of the communication between schools and the community. They build the link between school and community by reporting district actions and progress to the public. In turn, they carry messages of support and concern from the public to the superintendent.

Most board meetings are open for members of the public to attend. Members of the public may submit a request to speak before the board about topics related to the district and schools.

Funding for Tennessee Schools
On May 2, 2022, Governor Bill Lee signed TISA into law. This new law will completely replace the Basic Education Program (BEP) funding formula and will determine how school districts receive funding starting in the 2023-2024 school year. Student enrollment, or Average Daily Membership (ADM), is one of the main factors in TISA.

Attendance is Linked to Funding
Families and community members want schools to have the funding necessary to provide a safe environment and a quality education for all children. Though details of attaining funding and use of the monies received may seem complicated to some people, there are two areas in which everyone can contribute to their district’s funding of schools.

  1. Be aware of the details of property and sales tax discussions.
    Vote in elections when these school funding topics are reflected on the ballot. When elections are held, the schools need voter approval to secure funding for needs such as new schools, remodeling of schools, and additional technology.
  2. Make sure your child attends school.
    Student attendance data directly impacts school funding. In Tennessee, districts receive some money based on the Average Daily Attendance (ADA) data. Basically, the figure is calculated by dividing the total number of days present by the number of days taught within the prescribed period of accountability (20 days).

Having a good attendance record helps not only with your child’s learning experiences, but also supports the financial elements of operating a school. Because state funding is based on student attendance, when students are absent, schools lose money! However, all of the costs of operating a school continue at the same rate. This includes items such as teacher and staff pay, utilities, building and grounds maintenance.

Additional information about student attendance is located at the following site:

On the page that opens, scroll to Title 49 – Education, scroll to Chapter 6, then scroll to Part 30: Attendance. Numerous topics related to Attendance are located within Part 30.

How School Policies Are Created
The school board adopts policies for the district after substantive discussion in open meetings. Board members may present policies following the recommendation of the superintendent, administrators, teachers, or any citizens in the district. Board policies provide overall goals and governance while not detailing or micromanaging the specific details of implementation. While there is often a great deal of discretion with the development of policies, most school policies are developed based on federal, state, and local laws or mandates.

State and Federal Law
Since most of the funding of education comes from the state and the local government, local policy mostly comes from those two sources. There are some federal laws that districts also follow in keeping with the fact that there is some funding related to these programs from the federal government. Some of the better-known examples include the following:

  • Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – Beginning in August 2016, ESSA replaced No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and Tennessee fully transitioned to ESSA in the 2017-18 school year with the existing path of more rigorous coursework that prepares students for college and careers, aligned assessments focused on problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and evaluation and accountability systems that measure the effect of these practices. Additional details including plans to implement ESSA in 2017-18 are located at the following link:

State Law
When lawmakers amend state or federal law, school district policies must be modified to reflect those changes. The Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49 contains current laws regarding Tennessee Education including higher education. Refer to, then click on any chapter within Title 49 that indicates the information you are seeking.

Local Considerations
If you move from one district to another in Tennessee, you may notice that policies are not exactly the same from one district to another. Federal and state laws often leave some flexibility to the local districts with the development of policies. Some districts follow a different plan for how to embed federal and state requirements into local policy. Thus, not all districts within a state are exactly alike in policy just as they are not alike in size, demographics, socio-economic status, and regional training options for high school graduates. In order to make the school district a good fit for all students and families, the school board considers the needs of the residents and policies that are best suited to those needs while still following the law. As local needs change over years, the school board revises their policies to reflect those changes.

How Parents Can Influence Policy
Board members and the administration discuss policies during school board meetings that you can attend. Remember that the local community elects school board members, so you have a say in who gets a seat on the board. School administrators may seek input from parents and citizens before proposed policies or procedures become final, so make your opinions known!

Since school board meetings are open to the community, find out when the regular meetings are held. Attend meetings on occasion to keep up with changes to existing policy. Also, check the district web page or the local paper for reports on what is discussed at the meetings, especially if you are unable to attend meetings.