Writing these columns has been one of the joys of my work at NSBA. I have had the opportunity to comment, and occasionally to pontificate, on issues facing public education. This has been a wonderful bully pulpit, but it is one I will leave when I retire soon.
I am spending these days both looking ahead enthusiastically, anticipating more time with grandkids and the pursuit of personal interests, and reflecting on an amazing four-decade experience. In 1980, I took a position as a lobbyist for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA)—a next step on an early career path that had started with county government and, I assumed then, would lead me to many more and varied places as time went by. Yet, public education had a way of gently pulling me in. I went on to become PSBA’s chief lobbyist, then served as its executive director for 11 years, and since 2012, have led NSBA.
This was more than a succession of titles, however. Along the way, a job became a career, then a calling. I came to appreciate public education as an integral part of our democracy and a vital asset of every community, which is why the leadership of school boards is so important.
Over my career, I have met thousands of local school board members from every walk of life, literally ranging from coal miners to astronauts, and from a broad range of ethnic, racial, religious, and socioeconomic groups. They are a cross section of America. Those who serve on school boards typically are paid little if anything, but that does not diminish the value of their work. In fact, they represent one of the last vestiges of true civic service.
School board members are not a special interest group, advocating for their own well-being. They are public officials who engage with state and federal leaders to ensure that education policies meet the needs of all students. That’s why state school boards associations are essential. They provide the means by which local school leaders can speak collectively on important issues, and they offer support, training, and resources to help these officials perform their role effectively.
NSBA is the “Washington Office” for the state associations. When I took the helm of this organization, we committed to creating a “New NSBA” focused on advocacy for school boards in the legislative, legal, and public arenas. In my first ASBJ column, I wrote: “At a time when decision-making increasingly is being assumed by state and federal levels of government, the need for a strong national voice for local school governance never has been greater.”
Over the past nearly eight years, we have delivered on that promise. NSBA drafted legislation to protect local governance that later was incorporated into ESSA (the “Every Student Succeeds Act”) and asserts an active, ubiquitous presence on the Hill. We file more amicus briefs on critical issues before the courts than any other education organization. We have vastly expanded our reach with national news media and on various social media platforms, ensuring that the school board perspective is widely shared. We have produced highly respected and impactful research. And, we have focused on equity, working to guarantee every child in America a great public education that meets their unique needs. Through all this, we have been tireless champions for community ownership of public schools, the fundamental reason school boards exist.
What an incredibly rewarding journey. It has been an honor to advocate for the most consequential and important public officials in America—local school board members. From my heart: Thank you.