“My child’s teacher doesn’t like him. Can you do something about it?”
“Isn’t it time for you to fire the football coach?”
“If you’re the boss of the superintendent, why can’t you tell him/her what to do?”
Chances are, you’ve heard these questions, or variations of them, from parents. School board members are the elected representatives of the community. As their representatives, we hear from parents in many ways, formally and informally. Those venues include PTA meetings, school concerts, sporting events, and the ever-popular grocery store line.
You also know that these kinds of questions put school board members in awkward spots. It can be difficult to tell a frustrated parent to follow the desired communication chain at their schools, asking them if they’ve tried to work things out with the teacher, the principal, and even a district administrator. Firing a losing coach is not the role of the board, which essentially has one employee to evaluate, the superintendent. And as for being the boss of the superintendent, it’s true, but certainly more complicated than that.
In fact, school board governance isn’t something that members of the public readily understand, and that includes parents. The parliamentary protocols of school board meetings are only a part of the picture. One very important element that parents need to know is that one school board member alone has no power. This idea can be difficult or confusing, especially when a board member is elected to represent a particular region instead of at-large. When making decisions, school board members must think of the whole district and all the students.
New board members must be educated about their roles. Some may have made campaign promises about curriculum, programs, or even personnel matters. We must help parents understand the role of school boards, too.
Many school board members, myself included, were motivated to run for the board by the desire to impact their children and provide the best learning experiences for all children in the district. In this issue of ASBJ, we are featuring an article by National PTA President Anna King on the association’s updated National Standards for Family-School Partnerships. Many of the standards support family involvement in their children’s education and partnerships with their schools and the district. They also can be useful in considering what your parents and other community members need to know about the governance of the district.
To help your work in this area, NSBA will be releasing a toolkit on parent engagement available for our National Connection districts this winter. We aim to help school boards build strong and lasting relationships with parents.
Parents who understand the governance processes of the school board and who feel heard can become powerful allies in the district and the community. They might even become your board colleagues!