KSBA Governmental Relations Director Hope McLaughlin’s job is to be an advocate for public education, but she is also issuing a challenge to school board members: Be an ambassador for public education when the legislature in not in session and not simply an advocate.
An ambassador, McLaughlin (right) explained to board teams attending KSBA’s Summer Leadership Institute, acts “as a representative or a promoter,” and is often described as diplomatic and building good will. “They have a mission and I think that our collective mission is public education,” she said.
An advocate is a person who “publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy,” often described as arguing or pleading their case.
“How many of you have something amazing happening in your school district?” McLaughlin asked. “I’m not talking about your chemistry classes curing deadly diseases, I’m talking about making differences in students’ lives – and I think you’re all doing that. How many of you have shared that amazing thing with a legislator in your district?”
By virtue of their office, school board members are ambassadors for public education and can start acting like one by inviting a legislator into their district to see “the amazing things” that are going on there, she explained. For example, she said, it could be a STEM program, or an arts program or a summer enrichment program or a technology program.
“Never underestimate the power of cute kids,” McLaughlin added. “There are third-grade classes everywhere putting on programs. And those are great opportunities for legislators to come into the school and see what’s happening. It’s also a great opportunity for the legislator to engage with parents, and to engage with you.”
Board members can invite lawmakers to attend a school board meeting, where they can hear discussions or see presentations on “good things for students,” or watch student performances.
She added, “I think there’s great value in a legislator seeing you as a fellow elected official.”
Anytime a school district or its staff is receiving recognition is also a good time for issuing an invitation to legislators.
Board members who are feeling uncertain about how to go about this can seek help from their superintendent, school counselors, district assessment directors or public relations personnel.
The best way to issue an invitation to the district or one of its schools is via email, McLaughlin said, since it can in a nutshell explain the event and provide contact information. [Search online for legislators at www.lrc.ky.gov
or call (502) 564-8100.]
Being an ambassador for public education isn’t confined to state lawmakers; McLaughlin recommended establishing a local public education network with groups like the PTA, school councils, chamber of commerce, the press and other elected officials, inviting them to see the good things that are happening in the schools. Board members also can talk up programs and student achievement at community events and by judicious use of social media, she added.
By showing lawmakers what’s going in in local schools and making them believers in public education, McLaughlin said, “The rest of the things we need will come after that. You be an ambassador first and an advocate second. A positive message is always well-received – you get more flies with honey.
“I haven’t been to a single committee meeting where the committee has received a positive presentation about a new program, something exciting, where it hasn’t ended with, ‘Your program is wonderful. Tell me how I can help you.’ That’s why we started this process now, with a positive message. And then, when January comes, we can go to them with our ‘asks.’”
Further, don’t forget to learn about the candidates for office and vote in November, she added.
For more information on being an ambassador for public education or help in inviting lawmakers and others to schools, contact McLaughlin at email@example.com
or call her at 800-372-2962.