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The importance of great school boards

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POSTED: April 3, 2008 5:00 a.m.

School boards don’t usually grab the good headlines.

Board of Education elections are generally relegated to the back pages of newspapers and websites and are rarely covered by television or radio. School board meetings usually fly below the public radar unless there is a particular issue that has riled up parents or teachers. And the work of good school board members almost never grabs attention or wins awards.

March 17 – 21 is School Board Appreciation Week in Georgia and now, more than ever, we should take the time to say "thank you" to these faithful servants.

The recent troubles in Clayton County should demonstrate to everyone how important school boards really are. The Southern Association of Schools and Colleges (SACS) is on the verge of stripping Clayton County’s schools of its accreditation mainly because of the actions of its school board. The impact could be catastrophic. Hard-working students could lose the opportunity to access the HOPE scholarship and may not be able to get into the colleges of their choice. Property values could plummet and business and industry could bypass Clayton, eroding the county’s economic stability.

But it’s important to note that this is the exception, not the rule.

Most of Georgia’s 181 school districts are run by excellent school boards that understand their role and empower the system’s staff and students. These board members dedicate an inordinate number of hours to their office, usually for little or no money. They field questions at night, on weekends and in the grocery store from concerned parents and teachers and, often, have to make gut-wrenching decisions about spending, staffing and discipline. This dedication of hours and effort almost always comes at the expense of time with their families and loved ones.

During School Board Appreciation Week, let’s dedicate ourselves to helping our school boards do their jobs well. Here are just a few ideas:

Get involved: Follow the work of your local school board and attend board of education meetings on a regular basis, not just when you have a problem. Stay in touch with your board members by providing ongoing feedback about issues and proposals. And be sure to send them a note when you have something positive to say either about a board member’s specific efforts or the schools, in general.

Choose carefully: At election time, make sure you know who is running and ask them the questions that are important to you. Attend school board debates and candidate forums and scour the candidates’ literature and websites for specifics. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and, respectfully, ask a follow-up question or offer an opinion. It really can make a difference.

Run for office: Not everyone has the energy or the ability to run for school board, but if you do, I’d encourage you to think about it. Our school boards need dedicated candidates who are interested in providing sound policy and clear guidance. You don’t have to be a teacher or politician, but you do have to be willing to put students first and embrace the mission and goals of public education.

Say Thank You: Perhaps the easiest thing you can do right now is express your appreciation to good school board members. You can write a letter or email, give them a call or – best yet – take a moment during a board meeting to just say "thanks" and shake their hands.

As for me, I want to say "thank you" to two very important school boards in my life.

First, as a parent, I want to thank the Fayette County Board of Education, which oversees the two excellent schools my children attend. I know they put in long hours and I hope they know the parents of Fayette County truly appreciate their work.

Secondly, as Superintendent of Schools, I want to thank the members of the State Board of Education, who I work with on a daily basis. The members of this board come from varied backgrounds – some are educators; some are business leaders; some are former local school board members and some are very involved parents. Each of them brings their ideas and their experiences to the table but checks their personal agendas and egos at the door.

We don’t always agree and, at times, we even argue. But, in the end, we almost always compromise and find common ground. And I know – without a doubt – that each member of the State Board of Education wants what is best for the students of Georgia.

So, to each member of the State Board, and to local board members around the state, I want to say "thank you" for your tireless dedication to public schools in Georgia.

 

The State Board of Education Members (listed by Congressional District)

1. Linda M. Zechmann

2. Peggy Stokes Nielson

3. Dr. Mary Sue Polleys

4. William Bradley Bryant

5. James E. Bostic Jr.

6. Robert "Buzz" Law

7. Jose R. Perez

8. Wanda Barrs, Chair

9. Larry E. Winter

10. Brian K. Burdette

11. Albert "Al" Hodge

12. Vacant

13. Dr. Mary Sue Murray

 

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