Vantage Point: by CSBA President Mike Walsh
Beginning the year with appreciation
Welcome to 2018 and another year of increasing the influence that CSBA has on the public education agenda. It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this publication that school boards play a critical role in preparing students to be well-educated, civic-minded participants in democracy. That has been the vision here in California since the first Constitutional Convention was held in 1849. Back then, Robert Semple, a delegate from Solano County, shared that, “If the people are to govern themselves, they should be qualified to do it. They must be educated; they must educate their children; they must provide means for the diffusion of knowledge and the progress of enlightened principles.” That vision seems just as important today as it was nearly 170 years ago.

With roughly 5,100 individuals assuming that governing role, it seems very appropriate that we started the year by celebrating January as School Board Recognition Month — not necessarily because of the work that has already been done, although the importance of that can never be overstated, but because of the enormity of the work that is about to be done. I see it as a thank you statement in advance. Thank you for setting the direction and giving your guidance to the staff so that they can set about the work of creating schools that best represent the vision of the local community.

The work we do in many cases is predictable and not very glamorous. You will schedule board meetings each month where the public is given the opportunity to share their appreciations and disappointments with you. Oftentimes it will feel like they are just sharing disappointments. You will become versed in how budgets are a reflection of priorities and how difficult it can be sometimes to create alignment between the two. You will also have moments where you will celebrate the successes of the students and community you serve. In those moments, you will be reinvigorated with the desire to do more. And in both cases, you will gain clarity as to the importance of your role as an advocate.

That brings me to what I believe is a critical conversation in becoming part of an effective governance team. What does it take to ensure that your board is best prepared to represent your local community or county and advocate vigorously? CSBA stands as a willing partner with you to provide you with all the tools and technical support you need to be an ardent advocate of public education. With a vast array of trainings, publications, workshops and events designed to give you the knowledge you need to make well-informed decisions, you can be assured that CSBA is committed to your success.

There is one other area that needs to be looked after in your governance team — your climate or culture. More and more we are beginning to understand just how important it is to measure the climate of a school district. I would argue that it’s just as important to be proactive in creating a positive climate for the board as it is in the district. A friend of mine likes to say, “If we don’t take time to create the culture we want, we’ll be drained by the culture we have.” Ask yourself if you believe your board is working together in a way that models your expectations of the district, the staff and the students as they work together. Improving the culture of the board will always lead to improving the effectiveness and influence of your board, therefore making you greater advocates for the very community that you have asked to serve.

Starting the year off with board member appreciation makes a lot of sense to me. Thank you in advance for loving your community so much that you are willing to serve on your local district or county school board.