School Boards Are More Important Than Ever

School boards used to be low-key, somewhat mysterious, “what-do-they-do anyway?” boards. Thank goodness, that’s changing! And here’s why.

Public education is at a crossroads, I believe, and a major reason for that is the shifting demographics of the country:
n  Fewer people are working.
n  Baby boomers are leaving the job market.
n  Technology is vaporizing entry-level and middle-class jobs.
n  Today’s late-blooming 30-year-olds are just launching their careers.
n  Today’s students are more technologically savvy than any previous generation.
n  Financial resources at the state and federal levels continue to shrink.

It’s not a rosy picture out there.

Today’s Boards Are Different

Last August, I had the opportunity to address the National School Boards Association Summer Leadership Seminar. I came away impressed: Many of today’s school boards are different from the boards of yesterday. First and foremost, they are focused on policy. These boards try and balance all of public education’s conflicting demands. They represent the electorate and parents. They represent schools and teachers.

A Future-Focused Approach

The best boards also put students first. They take a future-focused look at what our students need, not what’s comfortable for our institutions, or even taxpayers. They know clearly and unmistakably what their mission is – namely to put in place a superintendent who will focus on what students need – and then support that person 110 percent.

Aligning the System

Some of you know this story, but I mention it again because it illustrates a point.

On Sept. 16, 1985, our son Paul, who was 11 at the time, was hit by a car in front of our house. Rescue workers rushed Paul to the hospital, where he underwent several hours of surgery. My wife Bonnie and I felt helpless. Would he pull through? What would his life be like?

Paul survived, but struggled for years. Today, I’m happy to report he has a successful career and a wonderful family. I’ve often thought about that day in September, and also this question: Who were the most important people at the hospital? The CEO? The president? The chairman of the board? Of course not! The most important people were the doctors treating Paul. I came to realize the entire hospital system – from the CEO to the accounting and janitorial departments – was aligned to let those doctors do what they do best.

Support Our Teachers

Which brings us back to schools.

Who are the most important people in your school? Teachers, of course! And that’s another essential role of a school board: Making sure teachers are supported. Their mission is not about the principal or other staff members, or even parents. Rather, their mission is to make sure the district is aligned to make teachers successful – so students ultimately will succeed, not only today but also tomorrow.

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