Jim Burgett (right), author of the book The Art of School Boarding, has a message for school board members across the state:
“Know that what you do today may make a difference in 30 years,” Burgett told attendees at KSBA’s Winter Symposium last month.
He recalled reading a quote from Apple founder Steve Jobs saying “We are here to dent the universe.” Burgett said when he first heard the quote he thought Jobs was “talking about the school people because that’s exactly our job, that’s exactly our mission. We’re here to change the universe.”
“If you think that your job is not that important, then you really don’t understand how important being on a school board really is,” Burgett said. “We’re here to dent the universe.”
Burgett, who spoke at the event’s luncheon, talked about three things he feels are important for school board members – building strong relationships, choosing what is right and setting priorities.
Build strong relationships
He said to build strong relationships, people need to understand what you say is what you mean and that you’re open and able to change your mind.
“In other words, you need to be fair in what you do and you need to be open and you need to be honest,” Burgett said. “Those are the fundamentals of trust.”
It’s important to build trust, he said, “because new school board members are going to be seated at a table with five people – four other board members and a superintendent – at the very minimum five other people, and you’re going to build relationships with those people. … It’s imperative that you not only trust the people next to you, but that you communicate and build relationships.”
He said if there is angst among board members, they need to have a conversation to find common ground.
“And it should be really easy; if you’re on the school board you have something in common, I hope,” Burgett said. “And I hope that the something you have in common is that you want to make a change for the kids in the district. If that’s the only thing you have in common, build on that.”
Choose what is right
Burgett said being a school board member or school administrator is an important job and “we need to do the best we can. Not part of the time but all the time.”
“I cannot remember a time traveling all around the country, which I’ve done for many years, when I’ve seen so many states struggling so severely with school funding and school financing and school supporting,” he said. “We can’t afford to make the wrong choices in times when times are difficult. … We need to choose the right path.”
That involves working hard, having good character and being leaders, Burgett said. “We need to cooperate with our board and our team and our community and our parents. We need to be a team player all the time. We need to play fair and we need to remember the golden rule.”
Burgett said it’s important for board members to remember why they are serving. For him, his priority is to affect the lives of kids, including his six grandchildren.
“I want this world to be a place where they will survive and excel and succeed. And if my grandkids pick up and move away from where they live right now and move to Kentucky and move into your district, I want to know that they’re going to be in a district that’s cared for by board members and administrators that love them and are going to take the best care of them,” he said.
Being a board member is not a solo job but a group effort, Burgett said. “And you’ve got to take your priorities and sometimes merge them with other people’s priorities. It’s not always easy. It takes work, it takes building relationships, it takes making a strong effort.”
Burgett said if board members combine service, vision, leadership and teamwork effectively, they will make a difference.
“One teacher you promote, principal you encourage, program you provide, decision to make a school safer, opportunity to improve achievement, vote to enhance technology, step to build teamwork, one act of kindness and then you’ll dent the universe,” Burgett said.
Wayne Mason, a newly elected Bell County school board member, said Burgett’s message was good to hear as he prepares for his role on the board.
“You’ve got to do that because there’s got to be unity in your board,” he said. “If you’ve got people there that’s not there for the right reasons – and he talked a lot about the love of children – I think that’s essential. But you’ve got to look at it that way. If you come in there for any other reason, you’re coming into it for the wrong reasons.”