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What Would We Former Board Members Tell Our Newly-Elected Selves?

Response from “Ask Former Trustees – Clear Creek ISD Chapter”: Joanna Baleson, Ken Baliker, Jennifer Broddle, Bob Davee, Glenn Freedman, Ann Hammond, Charlie Pond, Page Rander, Dee Scott, Win Weber

What follows is an imaginary conversation between our newly-elected selves and our current ‘selves.’ All of us are former trustees with almost 100 years of experience as boards members, including countless elections, many different colleagues and five superintendents. We have all served in the 21st Century, experiencing everything from 9/11 to a global pandemic; legislative sessions that gutted public education to ones that gave us hope; and community support that has varied from cohesive to fragmented and back again.

The Conversation

Newly-Elected Self (NES): I just got elected. I am raring to go. Move aside, the new blood is flowing!
Current Self (CS): Yes, I remember saying that. Such passion. Such a commitment to make our children’s future better.

NES: Isn’t that enough?

CS: It is a start, but there is so much more you can do to be effective.

NES: Like what?

CS: As we reflect on our experiences, one common factor is how much we all continuously learned as school board members about the “Four P’s”: Public education (it is even more exhilarating, important, and complex than you imagined), Politics (we all have participated in elections and heard from the special interests), People (they are all the same and all different, simultaneously), and Process (getting things done requires superb skills in communication, clear-headedness, patience, and teamwork).

NES: OK, anything else?

CS: Yes, we learned the hard way that we must know ourselves better. We became board members at different ages and with different life experiences yet being a board member helped us grow as individuals and as leaders. For example, over the years we found our three main cornerstones as well as areas of growth were:

1. How to lead with Values: Integrity, engagement, transparency, respect, and above all else, putting the interests of students first.
2. How to lead with Vision: Strategic planning, risk management, policy, budgeting for students first, and decisions that are aligned with agreed upon plans.
3. How to lead with Personal Behavior: Behaving honorably and civilly in meetings and with the public, speaking when one actually has something to contribute, acting as a servant leader, doing the homework, and engaging with students, teachers, and the public in a manner appropriate for a trustee.

NES: Those seem obvious. What other advice would you provide yourselves?

CS: In one way or another, most of the people we served on the board with had a proven track record of service in key volunteer positions in the district before becoming board members. Watching board members get elected with a history of minor roles or even no experience other than having kids or having attended school themselves has been painful on occasion, and it can hurt the district. It would be like going to a lawyer who never attended law school but watched Perry Mason reruns. Our advice then is to keep reading, engaging, and learning.

Research reported in Education Week, a national news journal, found that only about 20% of newly elected board self-reported that they were ‘very prepared’ to fulfill their board responsibilities. We thought we were prepared, and we were – a bit. Being on a board may be partly a political process, but never let it be a partisan one. There is some hubris that comes from being elected. More important is humility. It really is – and always should be – about the kids.

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