March/April 2024

Commentary: Advocacy Empowers School Board Members

By Shawn Killackey
Journal | March/April 2024 

Being on a board of education gives each of us opportu­nities to not only better our own school districts but also to affect other ones positively. Through advocacy, we can do more, as board members, than sitting at a meeting every month and voting on such things as a budget or a new policy. That’s not to say that these are not important duties of being a board member, because they are, but there is more that each of us could do.

The reason I wrote this commentary is to hopefully encourage other board members out there to try their hands at advocacy; to step out of their comfort zones for their schools; to know the abilities we’re given as board members. We, as elected officials, can make a change to the current system and are capable of mak­ing a difference for our schools.

In 2023, I participated in the IASB Resolutions Process. I submitted a resolution to the IASB Reso­lutions Committee for them to review and in August met with the Committee via Zoom to present my case – allowing mail-in votes from school districts that cannot make it to the annual Delegate Assembly but still want to vote and have a voice in the process. When the 2023 Resolutions Committee Report came out, it stated that the Committee decided to not pres­ent the resolution I submitted to the Delegate Assem­bly in November. The Committee determined it to be an IASB Constitution issue and would be better approached in a different way.

This setback on my first major attempt at advocacy didn’t discourage me. In fact it encouraged me to keep moving forward with my idea. I feel that I’ve planted a seed now with IASB about a problem that didn’t have a solution yet, but when worked on, may make a differ­ence on the current status quo.

Then, in September 2023, as my interest in advocacy was growing, I attended the first Feder­al Advocacy Conference hosted by COSSBA, the Consortium of State School Boards Associations. As a board member and elected official, I felt I could work, not just on behalf of my district, but for other districts as well.

The Federal Advocacy Conference brought togeth­er 215 participants from across the country, including 15 school board members from 10 Illinois districts. It involved training the board members, such as guidance on how to talk to staff and representatives on the issues, which we did the next day. I still use that information. It was an opportunity for school board members to share experiences and discussions with each other too. You’re making a good change, not just for your own district, but for school districts in the nation as a whole.

I wanted to bring back to my board that this is some­thing that we can do. The school board has its usual responsibilities, but we can also do other things. We are elected officials, and we can go out and talk to other elected officials, our legislators, and make a difference.

When you do this, you discover you do have an impact.

The Resolutions Process and the Federal Advocacy Conference are notable in a school board member’s potential advocacy calendar, but there’s more. There are events, like a legislative breakfast or luncheon, to talk with other elected officials, including state senators and representatives. Twice a year IASB has Division Meetings where school board members can network with peers from other school districts about different issues that need solving. Also, you can help IASB with bringing school issues to Springfield through the Advocacy Ambassador program.

Board members are empowered more than you think with the ability to make a difference and in the end, it is your school district that benefits from what you do in advocacy.

Shawn Killackey is on the Fremont SD 79 Board of Education and currently serves as Board Secretary, IASB Delegate, and Representative to the Special Education District of Lake County.