Know Your Role

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By Gary Hardie

If you are currently serving on a school board and do not see yourself as an educator, you should change your mindset about your role or resign. School board members who do not see themselves as educators are often excusing themselves from their number one duty, being the chief educators of a school district.

Sure, some of us were never teachers or administrators. We may not ever lead professional development, data reflection, or teach a lesson in front of a classroom, but we are educators who have an impact on the educational success or shortcomings of kids in schools. As such, we have to be held accountable for all kids in every school we govern as we determine the vision and direction of our school districts.

Recently, I was in conversation with two members of a school board who, when pressed on outcomes for black students in their schools, completely danced around answering the question and could not own up to the fact that black students were failing in their schools nor own up to the fact that is their responsibility to do something about it. Moreso, they could not name one step their district is taking to address this issue. One of them explicitly said, “I am not an educator” even though this person serves on the board. So, I wondered what this board member was doing serving on a school board in the first place.

School boards are responsible for hiring and evaluating superintendents, adoption, and oversight of the annual budgets, adopting policies and setting goals and priorities for the district. In doing so, the board and its members impact each classroom. As such, if there is something our students need, it is our job to respond to make sure they get it by directing the superintendent to respond to whatever concerns arise. If groups of students are struggling, the board has the responsibility and ability to ensure those students have the supports and resources they need to be successful. While board members are not able to do this work themselves, they certainly have an impact on whether or not this work gets done.

Many of my colleagues serving on school boards across the country do so, amicably, as they fearlessly face challenges to do what is best for all students in their schools. As often as we convene ourselves together, it is a pleasure to catch up with them, vent and give and receive updates on the work we have been doing in our schools. In conversations about their districts and their roles, I have not once heard them refer to any students as, "those students" nor have they ever not had an answer about a specific population of students when pressed about it. In the instance where any of us expressed a challenge we were unsure how to address, we reached out in search of those best practices and policies that produce the outcomes. That's what educators do; we search for answers that will make a positive impact on our students.

If communities recognize they have ineffective board members governing their schools, they need to hold these folks accountable by demanding they simply do their job and accept their role in educating kids. We cannot let anyone remain in power without accountability. So, ask questions, demand answers, and fight for action that produces the best outcomes for kids and schools.