Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Phyllis Barks, the Associate Executive Director for Leadership Development at the Missouri School Boards’ Association (MSBA). MSBA is a private not-for-profit organization that exists to help school boards succeed by providing training, advocacy for public education, legal assistance, resources and other support for school board members throughout the state.
In the nine years I spent as a teacher in a Missouri middle school, I never attended a school board meeting or considered that I could attend. Even though my dad was employed as the secretary of the school board most of the time when I was a student in school, I really had no idea what the school board did.
There are many reasons a teacher might attend a school board meeting. Before we discuss those, it is important to understand the role of the school board and the purpose of the school board meeting.
The board of education is a volunteer representative body elected by the registered voters of the local public school district. Board members come from all walks of life and are as diverse as the communities they serve. School board members in Missouri receive no pay for their service.
School boards derive their power and authority from state laws and regulations. The board has authority to take action only when it is acting as a whole during an official board meeting, i.e. action occurs by majority vote at a public meeting. Individual board members have no authority to provide direction to the superintendent or other staff, change policies or procedures, direct operations of the district or make other individual decisions. Of course, school board members are usually interested in hearing comments and concerns from teachers and other members of the community but don’t be surprised or offended when they refer you to the principal or another staff person who can address your issue.
So what do school boards do? In compliance with state and federal laws, school boards establish policies and rules to serve as guidelines for the general management and administrative actions of the district. Some other key responsibilities include the following.
- Defining the purpose (mission) and primary goals of the district with input from the district community and in collaboration with the superintendent is a key responsibility of the board. Improvement and success do not happen by chance. It is important for teachers and others in the district to understand how their daily work connects to district goals.
- Much like you determine how to measure improvement and achievement for your students in the classroom, the board and superintendent determine how district success will be measured. As elected representatives of the community, the board has a responsibility to be accountable to the community by frequently gauging how the district is doing. Research shows effective school boards have a direct impact on improving student achievement in their districts through the expectations they set and the policies they adopt.
- The board is responsible for approving the district budget and ensuring that resources are distributed appropriately to achieve the district’s goals and priorities.
- One of the most important responsibilities of the board is to hire a superintendent to effectively guide the district in achieving the mission and goals. The board entrusts the superintendent with determining how to accomplish the mission.
Now that you know a little more about what school boards do, let’s get back to the board meeting. The purpose of the board meeting is to conduct the business of the board. The Missouri Open Meetings and Records Act, or Sunshine Law, requires that the public must be informed of the meeting and what will be discussed so they have an opportunity to observe the meeting. Teachers might be interested in observing board meetings to hear firsthand the discussions and decisions the board makes that might impact their work in the classroom. Surveys from Phi Delta Kappa and the Gallup Poll indicate that teachers are a primary source of information for parents. Attending board meetings is just one way
teachers might be informed about district policies and procedures, how the district is doing and other key information.
What are other reasons teachers might attend board meetings? You might be asked to talk about a program or practice that is implemented in your classroom or school. Some tips to keep in mind: avoid using jargon or acronyms; indicate the purpose of the program or practice and how it relates to district goals or priorities; provide data in charts or graphs to illustrate if the program is getting the desired results. Lastly, share any information the board needs to know or consider about the program or practice for future planning.
A teacher might attend a board meeting to address the board on a particular issue. Your district’s board policy will indicate if the board allows public comment during the board meeting. If so, there may be specific guidelines for comment, such as it must be related to an agenda item or there may be a time limit for speaking. There is also a policy that indicates how a teacher or other member of the community can request to be on the agenda to speak on a specific issue.
Board members are always interested in the successes of students and staff. If you have earned an additional degree or certification, received an award or achieved some other milestone, be sure to share it with your principal or another district leader. Many boards celebrate student and staff achievements during board meetings.
These are just a few of the reasons teachers might attend school board meetings. I wish I’d known this when I was a young teacher!
If you have questions about school board meetings, be sure to ask your principal or another district leader. And don’t forget to thank your board members for their volunteer commitment to the success of your students!