In the summer of 2017, IASB kicked off a season of member engagement with a series of focus groups, with the goal of determining what our members want and need from their Association. We made a promise to our members that we would inform them of the results of the focus groups and any next steps.
Another facet of member engagement included member, superintendent, and administrative professional surveys, which are shared in this Journal as well. IASB scheduled three focus groups and invited individuals from all IASB divisions. Attendees brought a willingness to exchange information and opinions about the Association and its work.
“As the IASB staff works to implement the vision and mission of our Board of Directors, it is important for us to continually seek input from our members concerning their needs, and how well we are meeting their needs, in a variety of ways,” said Cathy Talbert, now retired as IASB associate executive director for Field Services and Policy Services. “We appreciate the open and honest communication we receive from our members on an ongoing basis. We appreciate the board members and superintendents who were willing and able to participate in these focus group opportunities.”
IASB learned that its members value the benefits of networking opportunities IASB provides. Feedback confirmed that IASB is on the right track with ongoing and current initiatives, such as community engagement and equity. Board members also emphasized the benefits of policy services and the Association’s work in providing advocacy and a collective voice for its members.
The focus group members that use IASB services found them beneficial, especially PRESS (Policy Reference Education Subscription Service), board member training, workshops, and conferences. Some said that the fees prohibited them from using certain IASB services; others expressed interest in services they did not previously know existed.
IASB asked what challenges were facing school districts, and what areas of improvement they observed. Finances and budgeting were the top issues discussed, along with facilities. Also mentioned were changing demographics, racial and equity issues, achievement gap, teacher diversity, and LGBTQ issues.
We asked what benefits and services IASB could add to its offerings that school boards would value and use. The suggestions included training on current issues (specifically mentioned were conflict resolution, SB1, and referendums), developing an equitable fee structure, defining representative groups within the Association, new board member orientation, survey development, and additional legislative advocacy opportunities. Some spoke to IASB’s division structure, suggesting, diverse speakers at IASB events, improved and regular division communications, improvements to the recognition programs, and revisiting division boundaries. Participants also offered opinions on how the above values could be used to better the Joint Annual Conference.
The information collected from this collaboration was distributed throughout IASB’s departments to be turned into action items. Some of the information gleaned from the focus groups was put into action immediately, adding to the planning of IASB’s Equity Event, in April 2018. Another new offering, the Lunch and Learn series of webinars, stemmed in part from participants’ interest in following current and ongoing issues. Several questions in the 2018 member survey were shaped based on the focus group conversations, and these results, too, will be used to further IASB’s aim to meet the needs of its membership with increased value to existing benefits, improved services and events, and new initiatives.
“As an association driven by the needs of our members, we will continue to engage boards and board members in order to better understand their local concerns,” said Dean Langdon, IASB associate executive director for Member Services. “The strength of public education is local governance where locally elected boards are most effective in determining the needs of their schools. These member engagement activities are intended to help us improve so that we can better support those local efforts.”