January/February 2024

Leadership Letter: Learn and Lead Together

By Kimberly Small

As leaders governing school dis¬tricts, it is important for school officials to take time and learn together and lead together to enhance their confidence and competencies in governing their local school districts. Every year, IASB develops content and resources covering dozens of topics including budgeting and school finance, safety and security, teacher recruitment, student voice, engaging the community, school laws, and equity, diversity, and inclusion. 

This year was no different during the 90th Joint Annual Conference. School officials from across Illinois came together to receive up-to-date content related to current education trends and to learn how other districts are meet¬ing challenges and finding success¬es educating Illinois’ almost two million public school students. 

Impediments to effective school board governance can be a lack of agreement or clarity about desired outcomes or a lack of trust in the data or evidence that will be used to support the board in its policy, decision-making, and monitoring roles. 

An overarching theme from the General Sessions of the 2023 Joint Annual Conference keyed on relationships, getting through disagreements and lack of clarity about desired outcomes. This included a success story about how obtaining an education changed the trajectory of Tererai Trent’s life, and about education being the catalyst to stop the generational cycles of poverty in her family. The theme was apparent in the session with Bill de la Cruz, that relationships matter and to create them we need to understand each other’s backgrounds and have conversations where everyone is included in the conversation. And clarity and trust arose on the final day of Conference in the discussion with Sarita Maybin about tools for having meaningful conversations through receiving and delivering feedback without getting defensive and communi¬cating with curiosity and positivity to impact results. 

Education changes the trajec¬tory of a student’s life. It opens opportunities and helps them develop relationships that matter. 

Likewise for our boards of edu¬cation and their members, creating and maintaining relationships opens avenues to clarity. Meaning¬ful, safe conversations support the board towards its desired outcomes and creates the trust necessary to move forward with the board’s pol¬icy-making, decision-making, and monitoring roles. 

To provide students with a quality public education, our members must work together and have conversations with each oth¬er, even when they may disagree, about how to meet their students where they are — with no excep¬tions. The challenge to meet every student where they are and to ensure that every child has access to high-quality educators, a safe and welcoming learning environ¬ment, and excellent academic and mental health programs and ser¬vices is no doubt daunting. 

A vital part of this process is to obtain clarity regarding two important questions. What do we want to accomplish? How will we know we have met our goals? These answers begin by ensuring that a quality public education for all students is the goal, that everyone making decisions relat¬ed to that deliverable is included in the conversation, and that con¬versations are entered into with curiosity and positivity to impact clarity in a district’s mission and vision. 

Clarity regarding expected out¬comes and the measures of success that the board will use in monitor¬ing the district’s progress — those conversations at the board table — are the critical initial steps to learning and leading together, to effectively govern and provide stu¬dents with a quality public educa¬tion ultimately impacting the lives of all students, their families, and their communities. 
Kimberly A. Small, J.D., is Executive Director of the Illinois Association of School Boards.