What makes an effective school board?

We have five elected officials on the Milford school board who represent the residents in helping decide our district’s direction. What makes for a competent board, one that will allow the district to operate most efficiently? I believe the following are the most important traits in effective school board members:

  1. People who are thoughtful and open-minded, and who learn: I believe these are the most crucial characteristics of an effective school board member. Board members are faced with many varying situations, and they must be able to listen and learn. They must be open-minded to hear and consider new ideas that can help the district and its students. They must develop a solid grasp on public school administration concepts and the laws that go along with that. They aren’t – can’t be – experts, but they need to have a good working knowledge of basic issues.
  2. People who are fiscally responsible: There are tons of great ideas out there, and many would help our students tremendously. But at what cost? Public school districts must operate within the confines of what the community can afford to support. We must conserve our funds and spend them wisely. Milford has been achieving this over the past 8 years as our current administration is committed to finding cost-efficient ways to improve student achievement. Board members must support these goals, not be focused on spending every penny.
  3. People who are committed: Being a school board member is a lot of work. There are not only regular monthly meetings, but also monthly committee meetings plus special board meetings and other community commitments throughout the year. Additionally, it is important to keep up-to-date on current trends in education by reading material provided by the superintendent and staff, as well as researching and reading on your own, meeting with people, and in general, treating being a school board member as a second job. It takes a lot of time – and a lot of personal sacrifice – to be an effective school board member. We all have other commitments; but as an elected official, you cannot let your work – or even family – commitments take precedence on a regular basis.
  4. People who truly desire to represent the community, and balance community needs with student needs: The community elects school board members, and it is the elected official’s responsibility to represent the community as a whole. School board members must listen to the community and take that input back to the board & administration. They must be able to understand when to push because community members want something specific, and when to say that is not in the best interests of our students or district. We have tens of thousands of residents in the Milford school district; there are easily thousands of different views of what the district should be doing. It’s a school board member’s job to understand when change can be made, when laws must be followed, when a different approach makes sense – and then to communicate that back to the community. They need to be able to filter out the demands of a vocal minority for what is best for the silent majority.
  5. People who are only out for what is best for the community & district: Many people run for public office because they have an agenda. They want something specific, or they want an edge for their own interests (usually their children, in this case). A good school board member does not go in with any preconceived notions, with any “agenda” other than being responsible and finding ways to serve the entire community and the district to the best of their ability. Of course, “serving the community and district” has to encompass all the characteristics above … So often, candidates may hide their true agendas behind seemingly “what’s best for our kids” or “representing the community” when “what’s best” may bankrupt the district and that “community” is only a handful of people, not the majority.
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One thought on “What makes an effective school board?

  1. Pingback: Highlights of 9/17/15 school board meeting | Andrea Brady's Blog

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