The Impact of School Board Leadership

Focused female mentor negotiator coach talking at diverse group meeting

School districts form some of the most powerful influencers within our communities. They have significant impact to our children, parents and community. Whether they are providing academics, after-school programs, pre-schools, extra-curricular activities or community functions, there are many roles that schools districts supervise that impact us all.

When we think of politics we typically do not think of school boards as a major force but since we have had to deal with COVID-19 in our schools and communities, the debates have gotten a lot more intense about masks, vaccines, what to mandate and how to teach. The intensity of these discussions have become heated and sometimes the well-being of students is not the primary focus. A recent article in Education Week by Gina Tomko describes some of these conflicts. Here are some excerpts from this article:

All the while, school boards’ work has become more visible than ever, with meetings that once were only in person now often livestreamed and archived on YouTube.

What all this means yet for school district governance isn’t entirely clear. But it will almost certainly complicate board members’ and superintendents’ jobs this fall. They’ll need to balance conceptual debates over race and equity with the tangible responsibilities of spending significant amounts of federal cash and adjusting yet again to a rise in COVID-19 cases caused by the Delta variant.

meeting room of people participating in a school board meeting

To an extent, this is not a new phenomenon. School board meetings have historically been the focus of intense cultural debates, like the teaching of evolution, the removal of offensive sports mascots, or the requirement, in the 1950s, for educators to take “loyalty oaths.”

The difference is that many of these debates now appear to be increasingly common, increasingly political, and less clearly centered on the specific needs of students.

“These are really adult battles over adult partisanship, and the interest of kids is of secondary importance to them,” said Vladimir Kogan, an associate professor of political science at Ohio State University.

How did we get here? Board members, superintendents, and scholars point to three interrelated factors that have changed the political landscape of democratic school district governance.

The rest of the article discusses how we have come to this place in our school board governance and makes the point that the decisions made are sometimes not in the best interest of our students and community. Rather some arguments and decisions  have become political and partisan which I find regrettable since our students are so heavily dependent on what happens in their school. If we are voting for school board members it may be helpful to read more about this phenomenon.  

Gerry Vassar


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