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KSBA Answers

Advice for new board members: Be sure to ask questions, seek advice

Kentucky School Advocate
January 2021

By Debbie Wesslund
KSBA Board Leadership and Training Consultant

I'm a newly elected board member, what advice do you have for new board members as we begin our first terms?  

Thank you for taking the big step to become a member of the board of education in your school district. Serving as an education leader in your community is one of the most important public service roles in the Commonwealth.  Just by stepping forward as a candidate you have shown you care a great deal about your community and the students in your district. That passion is the first step toward being an impactful school board member.The advice I have is pretty simple:

1. Pace yourself. There is no way you will know everything at your first board of education meeting. You do not need to be an education expert to do your job well. Study your meeting materials. Listen to your superintendent’s recommendations. Ask questions. Pretty soon, you will gain confidence.

2. Focus on relationships. You and your colleagues will make important decisions together. Sometimes you will come down on different sides of an issue. Disagree agreeably. Once you vote, it’s time to move on. Never give up on maintaining a good relationship with your colleagues. That’s what teamwork is all about.  

3. Remember your role. You are the citizens’ voice within the school system, and you should listen to the community and be a champion for all students. But you have a specific responsibility, and that’s governance. You approve policies that guide all district operations, but you do not manage the operations of the school district. You hire the manager – the superintendent – who takes care of the day-to-day business of the district, and who carries out the policies you put in place.

4. Ask for help; embrace training. Nobody knows everything, so be sure to ask questions. You can seek advice from more senior board members, and you can always ask your superintendent to explain an issue or proposal. Training will help you gain confidence. By law you must earn training hours in a variety of areas. You can learn a lot from KSBA courses and by getting to know colleagues at conferences. Reading through this monthly magazine regularly can help you gain information that will build your base of knowledge.

5. Pay attention to superintendent evaluation. By law, you must evaluate your superintendent’s performance annually. There is a specific process for doing this, and it takes a year-round focus. The standards you use to complete this task inform you about his or her responsibilities, and it’s a good review of what goes into leading a successful school district.

The guidance you give your superintendent is how you set expectations for your school district. When you have gone through this once, you will understand much more about your job and the goals of your district.

Best of luck as you embark on your school board journey during this most unusual time in our state, country and world. More than ever, we need public school officials who will make informed decisions and help build confidence about the bright future ahead for the Commonwealth’s children.

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