Your authenticity a key to school board success
Kentucky School Advocate
By Kerri Schelling
KSBA Executive Director
Merriam-Webster recently released its 2023 Word of the Year.
Authentic (adj): Not false or imitation. True to one’s own personality, spirit, or character. Worthy of acceptance or belief. Conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features.
It’s easy to equate this definition to simply being oneself when, in fact, it is far more complex. Authenticity is just as much about doing as it is about being. I liken it more to integrity than originality. It is something to which we aspire, not something we accomplish.
In the spirit of KSBA’s 2024 theme, “Keys to Success,” I submit to you that the practice of authenticity is a powerful tool for school board members. If wielded correctly, it fosters trust, transparency and good governance.
Communities elect representatives to local boards of education to serve as their trustees. A board member holds power in trust for everyone and every group in the district and must carry out responsibilities for the benefit of, and in the interest of, everyone in the school district. The authentic school board member understands this charge and recognizes the weight of his or her responsibilities, resisting the temptation to put personal or political agendas over the educational welfare of students. By keeping the board table clear of unnecessary clutter and drama, you contribute to a district atmosphere of stability, assuring the community that their children’s education is in hands of adults they can trust.
The authentic school board member also remains true to and actively demonstrates the values that the district reinforces through the mottos painted on cafeteria walls, emblazoned on district websites and recited at school events. Board members should be the first to exemplify those values, as they are often the most publicly visible representatives of the school system.
Authentic school board members are not isolated figureheads only visible at board meetings, but are present in the community, attending events and engaging in conversations that make it crystal clear that they genuinely care about the future of all students and are committed to working collaboratively to achieve district goals. After all, individual school board members, while free to express independent views, have no more authority to direct the affairs of the district outside a proper meeting than any individual citizen. The board must work as a unit or it cannot work at all.
Authenticity demands active listening, empathy and an unwavering commitment to understanding the unique challenges of students, parents, teachers and other stakeholders. District leaders should seek to demystify the decision-making process, inviting public input, and providing clear explanations for choices made. By doing so, they cultivate trust and encourage active participation by all those with skin in the game.
Transparency serves as the bedrock upon which that kind of trust is built. An authentic school board member understands that open communication, honesty and accountability strengthens the relationship between the district and the community it serves. Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, a Louisville native, famously said in 1913 that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
In that vein, let your authentic light shine!
In honor of School Board Recognition Month, I am sincerely grateful to Kentucky’s 857 school board members who pour so much of their authentic selves into service to students. I wish you a happy, healthy and successful 2024!