January/February 2024

Advocacy Angle: Two Sides of the Joint Annual Conference

By Barbara Hobrock

Throughout my tenure as a school board member, I was fortunate enough to attend the Joint Annual Conference twice. This year was my first experience attending as an IASB employee. While the two experiences are similar in many ways, the differences are clear. Overall, the vibe and feel of being there is one of excitement, positivi­ty, and purpose.

The first time I attended in 2018, it was overwhelming to say the least. The vast size of the Conference and everything that is available to school board members and attendees is beyond impres­sive. I had no idea that so much information, training, and support was available until I attended the Conference. I was in my second year serving on my school board and did not completely know what I needed as a board member. Still learning my role, I chose panels that would broaden my under­standing of my purpose. The panels surrounding how to build an effective relationship with your superintendent were especially helpful. After all, in order to work together, the board needs to estab­lish a great relationship with their superintendent.

Connecting with other school board members throughout the Conference was an unexpected bonus. As I walked into a Panel Session regarding rural schools, I met a fellow board member from another district that I knew only through email. We bonded over our rural district needs and have used each other as sounding boards with issues in our districts over the years. Even after I retired from the board, we have continued to work together for the better­ment of students and districts.

After Conference, I brought back information to my board that we previously had no idea existed. While we were receiving many emails from IASB regarding the Delegate Assembly and resolutions, we had never taken action to have meaningful discussions surround­ing the resolutions or send a dele­gate to the Delegate Assembly. We figured our little voice was not big enough to be a part of the conver­sation, but we were wrong. It was at the Conference that I learned that delegates vote on resolutions proposed by districts and if passed, those resolutions become IASB Position Statements. The Position Statements are what drive the advo­cacy work of the Association. Our voice mattered and my purpose was to be that voice for our district and every one of our students.

My second year attending the Joint Annual Conference, I was honored to be our delegate at the Delegate Assembly. Our board discussed the proposed resolutions, we decided our position on those resolutions, and I voted on our behalf. It felt great to participate in democracy for our students and be a voice we thought no one would hear. I also attended panels that were more in-depth of what our district needed, because I gained a better understanding of our needs. I grew as a board member and the Conference grew with me. Wheth­er you are a new or seasoned board member, the Joint Annual Confer­ence has something to offer.

This year as an IASB employee, I was fortunate enough to host a Panel Session. Over months, I worked with esteemed leaders in education to create a meaningful panel for not only school board members, but all attendees. “Here a Mandate, There a Mandate, Everywhere a Mandate” discussed the impact of mandates on school districts through the lens of a school board member, superin­tendent, and principal. The panel supports two Position Statements for IASB, which brought my work full circle. I was once voting on what would create the Position 10 • Illinois School Board Journal

Statements, and now I am working for the member school boards to fulfill those Position Statements. I am hopeful the conversation will continue to grow with members bringing back information to their boards to discuss.

Being on the planning end of the Delegate Assembly and watch­ing democracy unfold was excit­ing. Serving school board members in this way was fulfilling, intimate­ly knowing the purpose of their work. Each person represented so many students, and their voices mattered. There are many details that need to be considered when facilitating such a meeting for more than 450 people and plan­ning takes months. It also takes a team that communicates well, sup­ports each other, and compliments one another. I am so grateful to be on that team.

But what was more astounding to me as an IASB employee during the Joint Annual Conference this year was the immense amount of planning, coordination, col­laboration, outreach, comradery, skill, and detail needed from every single IASB employee to make this phenomenal event happen for our members. As a board member, I attended, went to panels, dinners, and events, and took it all for granted. It was all just there! Host­ing an event of this magnitude is no small feat and I am so humbled to have been a tiny part of it. I am also forever grateful that my expe­rience as a board member has given me the opportunity to serve other board members in this capacity.

The two sides of the Joint Annual Conference share excite­ment, comradery, and purpose. As a school board member, I was excited to represent my district and grow as a board member, build relationships with other school board members, and define my role and purpose in serving my community. As an IASB employee, I was excited to serve our members in many ways, build even more relationships, and continue to define my purpose in my current role. I am forever humbled to advocate for our school boards, and I hope to see you at the Joint Annual Conference next year. 

Barbara Hobrock is Director of Governmental Relations with the Illinois Association of School Boards.