As a board member, you are being asked to do more than ever before. You are in the position to shift the trajectory in education, which means you must fully understand your role within the education system and assess your level of individual effectiveness. Ask yourself: How am I maximizing my time to be fully present in this watershed moment?
Our children are not well. The pandemic has exacerbated long-standing systemic inequities, leaving students to deal with adult responsibilities. How is your board focused on the needs of the whole child? Absenteeism is increasing, and some students are not returning to the classroom. Students are exposed to everyday traumas in their lives and on social media.
Equity achievement gaps are widening. America is grappling with our racial reckoning. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are now at the forefront, quickly becoming an institutional standard. Don’t be that school district making national news because of a racial incident. You’re either doing something new and innovative or you’re enabling the problem.
While you should strive for a harmonious public perception, the system needs to be questioned and held accountable at every level. Being a school board member in today’s climate takes courage and curiosity. Dare to reimagine.
I can say this with great confidence because I know what you’re going through. I’m a former school board member. When I joined my board in 2013 as a single mother and parent of a student in the district, the deck was stacked against me. I persevered by prioritizing my school board service. This role was never meant for someone like me.
At that time, I didn’t own a vehicle, so I faced challenges like taking public transportation to board meetings. I had to walk another 15 minutes on unpaved sidewalks and, at times, on the street in a bike lane in over 100-degree weather, but it was worth it. I’m thankful for occasional rides that lightened the burden. No stranger to challenges, I did what I had to do with no excuses.
Almost immediately, I adopted a philosophy of “by any means necessary” and pledged that I would show up and effectively wield my power to improve the quality of education for Arizona’s Balsz Elementary School District students.
Anxious to learn the complexities of my role, I joined our state school boards association, participating in every board development training, eventually chairing the Black Caucus and joining the board of directors. I signed up for several education newsletters and leaned into NSBA reports and publications. Such publications helped me further understand how my local board’s data was measuring up.
At the start of my service, the board had not established a professional development budget nor embraced board retreats. After I championed both with board approval, my board had greater opportunities to understand holistic approaches to education, to measure by convening with experts and peers, and to transform punitive discipline practices.
These accomplishments only could occur with the support and collaboration of the board. It took countless study sessions, board retreats, deep data dives, expert presentations, reports, superintendent and community support to bring this work to fruition. We understood that board members must focus on governing the district and not each other.
I left my board in December 2020. I’d like to pass along my lessons learned as a member of an equity-focused school board. It’s essential to:
- Update emergency preparedness plans.
- Make data-based decisions.
- Center students’ social-emotional and academic development needs, including students with disabilities.
- Implement a comprehensive equity committee that includes educators, parents, and stakeholders, including students.
- Request monthly disaggregated student discipline data reports and identify root causes and solutions to disrupt negative trends.
- Adopt restorative justice practices and mindfulness.
- Commit to ongoing professional development with equity-based solutions.
- Develop or update your five-year strategic plan, focusing on equity.
- Adopt a culturally relevant and innovative curriculum.
- Lean into having multiple special board meetings, study sessions, and board retreats a year.
- Identify results-driven board facilitators.
- Complete board self-evaluations annually.
- Create district goals before each new school year.
- Track district goals progress throughout the year.
- Align district goals and the budget.
- Conduct annual salary audits.
- Sign agreements with HBCUs, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and the First Nation’s Development Institute to build your educator pipeline.
- Continually question the system.
Now more than ever, we need school boards to function as a team to carry out strategic, equity-based policies, practices, and behaviors.
Channel Powe (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an education, political, and equity consultant.
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