From the Field

Leading Towards the Future

By Laura Martinez

It’s hard to imagine that the next school board member election is less than one year away. Do you remember when you were a new board member?

We all know the importance of helping newly seated board members understand their role and learn about the district, but is there anything that board members can do now, to help potential future board members? Everyone on a board wants to be effective, and Foundational Principle of Effective Governance 6 guides us that part of that is ensuring continuity of leadership, even in the face of board turnover. This means having agreed-upon board protocols and working together to have a positive board culture. What it also means is keeping an eye out for potential future board members. Who knows better what it takes to be a board member than a current board member?

Many times I’ve heard from board members, when asked why they are on their board, that “so and so said I should run/pushed me into it.” Current board members understand what it means to be on a board, be one of seven votes, work as a team, and keep governance as their most important job, rather than any one personal agenda item. So naturally, current board members have an eye out for people in the community who might make good board members.

Does this seem like stacking the deck? Well, not when you consider that on an effective board, all board members are there for the same reason: Educating the district’s children while being fiscally responsible. With that shared vision and goal, board members are working together towards the same thing, and not working against each other. By no means does this squelch individual board members’ ability to express opinions. Everyone has different life experiences, education, and backgrounds, and those things are important to bring to the table. Board members have debate and deliberation based on these differences, but still toward the same goal.

Being aware of possibilities for future board members, and actively recruiting them, is part of a board’s job. Embedded in Foundational Principle 2, Connecting with the community, is one of the best ways to do this: While the board is telling the district’s story, it should also be noticing who is particularly receptive, interested, and intrigued by it.

I would venture to say that part of telling the district’s story is telling the board’s story – what does the board do? What happens at board meetings? What is the board responsible for? Help the community understand the board’s job, why decisions were made, and how they can get involved. Are your board meetings the only place someone from your community can see what it’s like to be on a board? Your website, social media output, and newsletters are great ways to inform your community about how the board works. Make sure your committee meetings are publicized, too, because these can give people a deeper look into how things work.

Extra effort must be made when it comes to people who are in your community but not involved in the district at all. You want to hear from them, too, and they could also make good board members. One of the greatest ways to engage your community (and recruit future board members) is community-involved strategic planning. You can never have too many supporters and advocates, so find ways to keep the really engaged community members involved even after the plan is approved.

 Another way the board can help attract candidates is to make sure the district’s values, mission, and vision are clear, as we learn from Foundational Principle 1. You should be proud of those, they are part of your district’s identity, and people should know what they might be getting into (in a good way).

I can’t stress enough the importance of having a positive board culture. Not only does it help the current board do its work and reflect positivity through the district, but also, good candidates want to be on effective boards that have a positive board culture and are well-run.

Are you on the lookout for the next board member? The election cycle for the 2023 school board elections begins in the fall of 2022. There is never a bad time, but now is a particularly good time, for current board members to reach out to people in the community who might make good board members.

Laura Martinez is Field Services Director with the Illinois Association of School Boards for the Kishwaukee, Northwest, and Lake Divisions.