The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is proud to announce the Indiana School Boards Association (ISBA) and the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) as the recipients of the 2021 Leading Edge Award.

Established in 2018, the Leading Edge Award recognizes state school boards associations for innovative services that support the work of school boards and districts in their states. Following an exceptionally challenging year, this recognition highlights the tireless work of state and local leaders to provide an equitable and excellent public education for all students.

ISBA was recognized for its Legislative Action Network (LAN) and VSBA for its Task Force on Students and Schools in Challenging Environments (the Task Force). The state associations will receive the awards at NSBA’s Summer Leadership Seminar held August 13-14 in Louisville, Kentucky.

“NSBA is honored to present ISBA and VSBA with the Leading Edge Award,” said NSBA interim Executive Director and CEO Chip Slaven. “The pandemic put a spotlight on the important role and incredibly difficult decisions that education leaders had to make. State associations stepped up to support their members, as evidenced by ISBA and VSBA’s excellent work to ensure the school board voice is heard in state capitals. As school local school board members continue to make important decisions regarding their students, the work to highlight the challenges and triumphs of public schools must continue.”

ISBA developed the LAN in 2018 to unify and mobilize school board members to participate in lobbying and advocacy that advances public education. The LAN asks each school board to designate one of its members as a legislative liaison to serve as the primary local point of contact for state house advocacy. ISBA empowers the legislative liaisons through timely action alerts, regular bill tracking updates, advocacy guides, talking points, white papers, webinars, and more. ISBA also hosts an Annual State House Day for school board members to receive additional training and meet legislators.

The grassroots advocacy program ensures that school board members are well-informed and equipped to help local lawmakers understand how the education bills under consideration will impact the schools and students in their district. Through the LAN, ISBA helped negotiate $763 million in new spending for K-12 education in the 2019-2021 state budget, the highest level of new funding in the state’s history at the time. The LAN also has contributed to the passage of bills aligned to ISBA’s legislative priorities and the defeat of bills that would have restricted local school board control.

Terry Spradlin, ISBA Executive Director, commented, “On behalf of the Board of Directors, staff at ISBA, and our nearly 1,700 school board members, we are honored to be a recipient of NSBA’s 2021 Leading Edge Award. School boards across the country need to engage in advocacy now more than ever. Our Legislative Action Network gives school board members in Indiana the tools, resources, and information they need to make their voices heard on the issues that matter to the future of K-12 public education.”

Aligned with the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) strategic plan, the Task Force on Students and Schools in Challenging Environments, created in 2013, makes recommendations to the VSBA Board of Directors, the state, VSBA membership, and other key stakeholders how they can support student achievement in Virginia’s most challenging environments. The VSBA Task Force has been instrumental in advocating and providing guidance for an equity framework, which includes model equity policies, best practices, researched-based strategies, and community mobilization efforts utilized by school divisions across the Commonwealth. The VSBA Task Force is comprised of school board members, superintendents, and other stakeholders, including representatives from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analytics. In 2020, the Task Force released its second report that includes best practices occurring in schools across the state and shared the document with Governor Ralph Northam, Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, President of the Board of Education, and featured it at VSBA conferences and professional development events.

The Task Force also engages VSBA member school boards on the importance of equity by hosting webinars, establishing March as VSBA Equity in Education Month, and providing school boards with sample resolutions and other resources. Following VSBA’s successful defense of the Virginia Constitution, which prevented the takeover of public schools through the Opportunity Educational Institution, the Task Force was instrumental in supporting efforts to repeal the state’s A-F grading system, changing the use of “failing schools” language, and creating an environment for equity to be an openly discussed priority and goal for Virginia’s students.

“The Virginia School Boards Association is honored and humbled to receive this prestigious award on behalf of the work of the Task Force on students and schools in challenging environments,” said VSBA Executive Director Gina G. Patterson. “We have a lot to be proud of and a lot more to do. It is hard work, but possible work, and, with the blueprint of the documents of best practices that have been developed over the years by the Task Force, it is work that can be replicated.”

“The Reports are a collection of best practices available in Virginia,” said VSBA Immediate Past President and Task Force Co-Chair Rodney Jordan, “but serve as a starting point for school divisions as they continue to address the difficulties that are unique to students and schools in challenging environments. The Task Force will continue its efforts to address disparities within our public education system with a keen focus on the impact that COVID-19 and the events surrounding racial injustices are having on families and students during these challenging times.”

“We are dealing with two crises that will significantly impact public education,” said Halifax County Public Schools Superintendent and Task Force Co-Chair Mark Lineburg, “The Task Force will continue to keep the discussion of equity at the center of its focus.”

As recipients of the NSBA 2021 Leading Edge Award, ISBA and VSBA will be featured in the American School Board Journal's October issue that is distributed to state school board associations and school board members around the country.

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