Chaos at school board meetings does not serve students

Legend

Tracey R. Deagle (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Adam EJ Squier

Tracey R. Deagle (Courtesy photo)
Legend

Tracey R. Deagle (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Adam EJ Squier

Credit: Adam EJ Squier

It is not a regional problem. The National School Boards Association has asked for federal help to prevent disruption and unsafe conditions at local school board meetings. As a result, the US Department of Justice has pledged support for local law enforcement agencies who wish to prosecute those who disrupt the official activities of the board. While viewed by many as a necessary step in regaining control over the sanctity of public board meetings, the most meaningful conversation should be how school board members will fulfill their obligations to the children of Georgia.

In the midst of this upheaval comes the opportunity to re-prioritize and hit the reset button. January is a great time to change the conversation, as the newly elected board members will be sworn in to their official duties.

School boards were created for a very specific purpose: to hire the superintendent, to set school policy, to govern and to allocate funds to run a district. The actual day-to-day administration of schools is entrusted to the superintendent and their identified district and building managers. Student growth and performance suffer when school boards stray from their intended function. The school climate suffers as board governance extends to the administration and advancement of political programs.

Here I offer my recommendations for new members and newly re-elected members:

  • Take part in a training: Most of the elected school board members have not worked in a school or as a teacher or administrator. Their involvement in school governance offers new perspectives and approaches to public education. However, school districts are complicated. Those who lead in schools are required to have higher degrees with specific course hours. It makes sense to expect that a good board member will also require some level of training. On this point, Georgian lawmakers agree, leading to new legislation in 2010 which strengthened the existing law requiring 12 hours of training by for new members and six hours each year thereafter. Members should focus on public budgeting, education law, ethics, strategic planning and policy development. Putting agendas aside and engaging in training and development – in a learning posture – not only alleviates legal issues along the way, but promotes functionality and collegiality among board members. administration.
  • Create a strategic plan: Developing a vision for student success in a rapidly changing world should be a priority. Equally important is that a board provides goals for the superintendent as well as a budget to support the vision. Strategic planning should not be done in isolation. It is best to do the visualization work in conjunction with community representatives / parents, as well as administrators, teachers and staff, after analyzing the key data that tells the story of the district. It is important for council members to leave their preconceptions at the door, especially what is going well and what is wrong in a district. Listening, asking key questions and checking what is heard with the data is essential to ensure that goals are created to better meet the needs of students. Often times I have seen a member of a school board act on information for which there is little evidence. This is unfortunate and could explain why parents now think that the loudest voices are the ones heard the most by district leaders. As our schools strive to deal with the drastic change in student learning rate as a result of COVID-19, should we be debating masks or language acquisition issues; the misconception that elementary school teachers teach critical race theory or the achievement gap widens as the opportunity gaps perpetuate? A clearly articulated and closely monitored vision empowers school board and district administrators to respond to external pressures before they reach the public forum.
  • Educate parents and define parameters for engagement: It is through the election of a board and participation in public forums that a community can feel connected to its locally funded school district. Yet, as we have seen recently, the electorate can be swayed by a few emotional issues that are generally not the function of a school board. Traditionally, the low participation rate in school board races has made these boards more sensitive to pressure from special interest groups. The problem is compounded by the racial and economic separation that tends to occur in large school districts. Voter turnout and parental participation are often lower in areas where there are the most opportunities for children. For all of these reasons, parental input is important for school governance, but can become dangerously confrontational and harmful if expectations for engagement are not set. Board meetings shouldn’t turn into “must watch TV” where communities make popcorn before settling in for the show. Children hear what is being said in these public forums. They see the anger and accusations against their parents or the teacher who looks after them all day. I have worked in districts where the board and superintendent use their legal team to ensure that the duty of public engagement is upheld without harming the entire community of adults and children. It can be done. Usually it starts with creating ground rules for engagement, such as public participants won’t name specific people, school anti-bullying rules apply to public participants. Creating avenues for civic engagement across the many layers of a school district also works. For example: key communication groups meeting at the building and district level, parent program advisory groups or PTAs can serve as forums for stakeholders to be heard and for parents to pull back the curtain and see the multiple complex aspects of each situation.

As board members take their new oath, I encourage them to consider the needs of the students. Investing in the governance of learning councils, respecting the distinction between governance and school administration, as well as creating a system of civility and collaboration, will benefit our students and our communities by lowering the temperature. currently in our schools. The anger and division must be mended now, or we risk losing many great educators and board members who work in the service of children.


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