Offering a valuable gift: service
As election time rolls around, we are bombarded by the media about presidential, congressional and local city council elections that are extremely important to us. However, many times the noteworthy elected officials who represent the future citizens of this country – our children – slide under the radar. In California alone there are over 5,000 school board members representing more than 6 million children, wholly responsible for setting educational policies for students.
There are 10 school districts in Nevada County and one county Office of Education that provides financial oversight and supplemental services to school districts. Each school district is autonomous, with a separate school board, and each has joint cost-saving agreements with other school districts in areas such as transportation and health services.
I would like to make this article more humorous or entertaining, but being on a school board is a very serious job that involves multimillion-dollar budgets. A school board can make or break a school district, set the tone of open or closed communication, and create an atmosphere of collaboration or divisiveness, all of which affects the education and achievement of students positively or negatively. A school board member is part of a governance team that decides the educational future of our children.
As you consider what candidate to select or if you would like to run for this prestigious office yourself, it is important to know what the job entails. The individual trustee keeps learning and achievement as a primary focus, recognizes and respects differences of perspective and style, acts with dignity, keeps confidential matters confidential, and understands that authority rests with the board as a whole, not with individuals.
The board must communicate a common vision, operate openly with trust and integrity, govern in a professional manner, evaluate its own effectiveness, and ensure opportunities for a diverse range of views.
Effective boards involve community, parents, students and staff in developing a common vision for the district that is responsive to the needs of all students. Policies are adopted, evaluated and updated, consistent with the law. The board approves district curriculum and monitors student progress. Effective boards take time and money for board development, which is equally as important as staff development.
The most important job a board does is hire, support, and evaluate the superintendent based on the implementation of the vision, goals and policies. The board, with the superintendent, develops a fiscally responsible budget based on the district’s vision and goals. Creating a strong foundation in good times will help weather the storm in difficult economic times. Ensuring a safe and appropriate education environment to all students rests with the board.
Boards also provide community leadership on educational issues and advocate on behalf of students and public education at the local, state and federal levels.
I think public education is the essence of a democracy and serving on a school board is one of the most valuable gifts of service people can give to their community.
I strongly encourage anyone with a desire to make a difference in the lives of children to consider making an appointment with the superintendent in your district and talking to other board members, staff, parents, students and community members. It is one the most worthwhile jobs and service you can give.
In order to be successful, you need to have a spirit of collaboration, trustworthiness, respect for diversity and a willingness to learn what it takes to do the job without micromanaging. The content you can learn, as there is lots of training and written material available.
Much of what is said in paragraphs four and five was taken from the California School Board Association Professional Governance Standards that I helped develop and edit as regional director for the CSBA in 1996-2000. For more information, log on to http://www.csba.org.
Yvonne Bartlett was a trustee for the Grass Valley School District for 13 years and a past regional director for the California School Board Association. Currently, she is the facilitator for the Sierra College Nevada County Community Leadership Institute and a private consultant in leadership training for businesses, schools, nonprofits and other organizations. She also serves as the facilitator for the Concerned Group for the Welfare of Nevada Joint Union High School District and is president of the Literacy Council of Nevada County.
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