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  • Writer's pictureMs. Bowles

What do you expect?

Updated: Sep 13, 2019

No, but seriously.

What are your expectations for the leaders in your community?

School board members, more specifically?

I've been thinking about that a lot lately. Sometimes, I travel for work and wherever I go, I like to collect data and study the place. My data is usually in the form of Uber/Lyft driver anecdotes, airport chronicles, and random interactions with fellow humans... but it's good data nonetheless. The answers vary from place to place, but everyone wants what's best for their kids.

I also like to study communities through my colleagues in the movement. What do their constituents say? Want? Need? Do? And how do they respond as leaders?

We all have different leadership styles, and you can't just emulate your way through life. But it's smart to study proofpoints, and scale them if they're righteous.

There's alotta good happening here, and on school boards throughout the country. As we seek to improve, here are three (of many) questions on my mind.

1. What is the ideal school board meeting?

I'm talking to those of you who have never attended a school board meeting before. I'm also talking to those of you who have and thought... "wtf"... or "what am I watching?"

First, it helps to know what we do, and what our job is but...

If you close your eyes and redraw the WHOLE picture, what would it look, feel, and sound like? Who's in the room, who's speaking, who's listening, and what are they talking about?

In most communities, there is a monthly work session and a regular business meeting; the recurring attendees are usually staff and central office leaders. But after that, the variables are infinite.

When it comes to meeting practices, some school boards do/don't have:

  • (sub)committees - academics, finance, budget, safety, etc

  • meetings for those committees

  • reports from those committees due between board meetings

  • an opportunity to respond to public comments

  • protocols for responding to public comment

  • community task forces

  • student board members

  • student-led presentations

  • student-centered conversations

  • monthly presentations from each department

  • board member announcements

CCPS does almost none of those things. Not (yet) saying we should, but those are some of the things on my mind as I watch and learn from my colleagues on boards around the country. For every yin there's a yang, and we can dive deeper into each of those bulleted items (at another time). I'd also be remiss if I didn't say... CCPS meetings have other cool features that some districts don't like interactive online agendas, livestreaming, and a dedicated YouTube channel.

2. What are the characteristics of the ideal school board member?

Okay... close your eyes again. (but keep reading). When you think about the type of people, not specific people, but the type of people who work together to lift the the district's children... What perspectives, experiences, & skills do they bring? What characteristics do they share?

Here are the MUST HAVES on most/all school boards:

  • an odd number (usually 5, 7, or 9... prevents tied votes)

That's it.

And I spent at least 5 more minutes thinking of what more I could say. But that's it; that's the only thing all school boards have in common. Beyond that... more infinite variables.

Your local school board members may or may not be:

  • elected

  • appointed

  • volunteers (with families or full time jobs)

  • wealthy

  • diverse in race

  • diverse in gender

  • diverse in age

  • bring diverse experiences

  • have diverse educational backgrounds

  • represent different areas in a district seat (versus at large boards)

And MUCH more. So yea... I'm sharing some data and trends and wondering what you think. Believe it or not, there isn't much data about public school board members. It's funny... the least amount of attention is placed on the ONE and ONLY group of elected people whose SOLE RESPONSIBILITY is to ensure and protect the upward mobility of America's children. I digress...

CCPS board members work hard. What characteristics do you envision for the board members who govern schools where you live? And deeper than that, what should they believe, say, & do for your children or community? And at what cost?

3. What is the ideal governance method?

When it comes to governance, people do some of everything. There is no "typical school board member." Some are quiet while others are loud, some are motivated by data while others are motivated by emotion, some respond immediately while others take time, some are great writers while others are great speakers, etc. ALL of that is okay, and necessary. There isn't a prototype, and that's beautiful.

At the end of the day, school board members have ONE job. Okay three.

1. Pass the budget

2. Oversee the superintendent (who oversees everything else)

3. Improve policies

The way I see it, my colleagues and I were elected to literally OBSESS over those three things.

Different boards handle those jobs differently. Some have advisory groups for finances, some have participatory budgeting processes, some have task forces with specific assignments, some leverage community orgs & unions, some have monthly/quarterly district meetings with constituents, some speak boldly at board meetings... and yes. Some do nothing. There's no 1 "right" or "wrong" way. All courage has intended and unintended consequences.

Our main goal is to be effective. Since we work for you, let me know if you ever wanna engage on these questions:

  • What do you want to see, hear, or learn about our budget? What does a successful budget process look like?

  • How should board members oversee their superintendents? What does an effective board-superintendent relationship look like?

  • What policies can help our students? And whose voice matters most when we decide?

In closing, I'll go just a taaad bit further and explain my honest rationale. On one hand, I'm asking all of this out of genuine curiosity. On the other hand, I'm asking because I'm about to kick it up a notch... #ForTheKids.

I want to be sure I communicate and listen.

Ya'll keep me accountable.


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