Every two years, and occasionally during existing terms, new members are welcomed onto a Board of Education. Although this is a very exciting time, it can also be a hectic time for the new Board member.
New members to a Board of Education have an opportunity to make a meaningful impact in their local school district on academics, facilities, fiscal management, operations, safety, and much more. Before delving into the multitude of areas and topics of interest and expertise, new Board members can benefit by participating in a meaningful orientation program.
Ohio's Rocky River City School District (RRCSD) welcomed three new Board members this year, and all three were first-time additions to the Board of Education. As district administrators, we wanted to provide support and information for each new member—support in areas of interest, as well as access to resources such as policies, financials, and the like.
"Preparing to serve on our Board of Education felt a bit like drinking from a firehose— there was so much information to learn in a short amount of time in order to be prepared to contribute effectively to the work of the Board," said Jessica Wilson, one of the three new Board members for RRCSD. "Our administrative team created a clear schedule of meetings and building tours that gave me the chance to learn about the big picture strengths and challenges facing our district and the specific topics I'd encounter in my early days on the Board. I started my Board service in January feeling prepared to engage meaningfully in the work and having built strong relationships with our district leadership team that will serve our district well going forward."
Our new Board member orientation program was developed with a collaborative twofold approach. First, Board office administrators met with the new Board members to listen and answer questions. Second, the new Board members and district administrators discussed an orientation plan that introduced all areas of the organization. Our discussion topics included a review of the organization and the time needed for tours and information sharing.
Sharing needed information such as bylaws, policies, financials, and school calendar(s) can be completed prior to starting a new term. Additionally, we shared the following documents:
- District negotiated agreements
- Sunshine Law for Schools
- Ohio Schools Ethics Guidance
- Robert's Rules
Each of the above documents is important and may be referenced during a Board member's tenure.
Following the sharing of opening information, the new Board members and administrators collaboratively developed a series of meetings with district personnel. These meetings served as a time for new Board members to meet administrators and staff, tour facilities, and become familiar with district procedures, operations, and equipment. Our orientation plan provided meaningful time for new Board members to meet with district staff. Tours of each school building and department provided an opportunity for site-based conversations.
"The orientation was a thoughtful process that gave me the opportunity to ask questions and provided precise information that helped me learn my new role as a member of the Board of Education," said newly elected RRCSD Board member Lauren Negrey. "Our administration made the process welcoming and collaborative so that I felt prepared to become engaged in the work of the Board right away."
We should note that the following in-person meetings were scheduled in blocks of time, from one-hour sessions to a couple of hours per meeting, and were convenient with Board member schedules. The meetings were planned over a period of several days and included time with the following staff members:
- Board of Education Legal Counsel
- District Executive Secretaries
- Board Office Administrators
- Director of Technology
- Communications Specialist
- Managers — Nutrition Services & Transportation
- High School Administrators
- Middle School Administrators
- Intermediate & Primary School Administrators
- Pupil Services Supervisor & Preschool Administrator
Meetings with additional staff members were scheduled as needed.
The collaboration that led to the final orientation program provided meaningful opportunities for discussions about the school district, personnel, operations, goals, and future opportunities. We are hopeful that with each new Board member, we can collaboratively develop an orientation plan to maximize time, meet areas of interest, and gain a great perspective of the school district.
Dr. Michael G. Shoaf (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the superintendent of the Rocky River City School District in Rocky River, Ohio. Elizabeth Anderson (email@example.com) is the assistant superintendent of Rocky River City School District. Gregory Murphy (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a communications specialist for Rocky River City School District.