Paula Stephenson: Being a good board member
October 29, 2005
School Board president
A good school system begins with a good school board, and the quality of the school board depends largely upon the interest of the districts’ citizens. On Nov. 1, you will be asked to choose three new members for the Steamboat Springs School Board. Although two are running unopposed, it is important that you examine the qualifications of each candidate and decide who will best serve this community. An equally important concept that must be considered is whether these candidates have the ability to effectively perform the duties of a member of the School Board.
A good board member has no agenda other than increasing the success of all of the district’s students. A board member may be more passionate about one subject than another, and he or she may have a concern that led him or her to run for the board, but, ultimately, that person must be able to put those interests aside. Once a person is elected to the School Board, he or she is obliged to speak for every member of the community, not simply those special interest groups that have his or her ear.
A good board member must have a broad view of the district. The board’s role is to define the mission of the district, to set the district’s goals and policies, to identify the role each employee will play in the success of the organization, and to monitor the district’s programs to ensure that each one adds value to student achievement. Operations and administration should be left to the superintendent. A school board member is a leader, not a manager. The best board members accept and respect the difference between the role of the board and that of the superintendent and work to maintain that separation.
A good board member sees the board as a cohesive team and respects the varying skills and perspectives of his or her colleagues. Each board member approaches a challenge in a different manner, but every board member must be able to work toward a common goal and agree or disagree without creating lasting divisions among the board. Great discussion and good governance require that board members argue their positions. The best board members acknowledge the importance of independent thought and freedom to dissent, but they firmly believe in majority rule, and they support board decisions even when they are on the losing side.
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A good board member knows that board service requires commitment, training and continual learning. Most board members spend about 45 hours a month staying abreast of state laws and local issues, attending a variety of meetings, fielding phone calls and e-mails from stakeholders and continuously improving their board knowledge and skills. Board members should be consummate learners; they should not act as though they are smarter than anyone else, and they should not approach a problem believing they have all the answers. The best board members are willing to spend the time it takes to understand their job, become informed about the issues and do the homework needed to take part in an effective board meeting.
Our system of government is not perfect, but it functions far better when competent and committed people are elected to positions of responsibility within the community. On Nov. 1, you have a choice. Governing the school district is an awesome responsibility. Hopefully, those candidates that will be elected will be up for the challenge.