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School Board Members: Upholding Your Promises

Every school board member makes promises. Promises to change the way students learn. Promises to be more transparent about how the district spends taxpayer dollars. Promises to improve school performance. But one promise is often among the hardest to keep: The promise that parents and others will continue to have a meaningful voice in school district decisions.

Change is a compelling narrative on which to build a political campaign. It’s the follow through where school board leaders too often fall short. Say, for example, your district has 10,000 students. How many parents or guardians is that? How many business owners and other taxpayers have a stake in the decisions you make? Now, think about how few of them attended your last board meeting.

Still convinced you speak for the people? Or are you simply talking to whoever is in the room?

Keeping your promises goes beyond simply inviting public comment during regularly scheduled programming. The entire community has to believe that the school district is committed to actively listening and responding to its concerns.

That might mean inviting feedback on key issues and policy changes. It might mean giving parents and others an easier way to reach out when they see something they don’t like.

Create a service culture
School leaders excel at innovation. All you have to do is walk into a classroom to witness the thought that goes into student learning. Unfortunately, that commitment does not always extend to other facets of the school experience. Take customer service, for example. How many times has your board heard from parents or community members who feel the superintendent or other school leaders failed to consider their feedback or kept them in the dark about a key decision?

You had–and still have–every intention of keeping your promise to give the community a say in school district decisions. But communication gaps between the school district and the people jeopardize that commitment–say nothing for your reputation.

Customer service is not the sexiest of ideas. It hardly gets mentioned in the same breath as, say, student performance, or college and career readiness. That’s a problem.

As much as we all want schools to improve, progress is a nonstarter–unless we find a way to make our communities a part of the solution. That means engaging parents, teachers, students, and others in important conversations about their schools.

To do that, every school leader, board members included, must commit to being responsive to community needs. Parents and staff and students need to feel valued. They need to know that their comments and opinions matter and that the school district has every intention of taking them seriously. That kind of engagement doesn’t happen overnight.

It requires a cultural transformation–the kind of stuff school districts write into their strategic plans, but never know quite how to do.

If you’re serious about keeping your promises, you need to walk like you talk it. That means giving parents, students, and teachers a way to engage with you on important school decisions. It means providing a quality school experience that stretches beyond the classroom.