Focus on the Board and you as a member

By Lon Garrison, Director of Member Services

Over the past year or so I have seen some concerning developments in this new age of extremism; the focus on one’s self as the sole authority of what is right.  As one author of a book I recently read I’m Right And You’re An Idiot (James Hoggan and Grania Litwin) noted, it seems to be more commonplace that this mentality is accepted elected official behavior.  Our national and state examples of leadership give us very little to model our public service behavior upon.

More and more, I see board members and board chairs, focusing on what they think is important, what they think is right, and how they feel something should be addressed.  This only leads to board dysfunction, a lack of effective governance and leadership, and a lack of respect.  It also is a major contributor to high rates of turnover in our superintendent positions.  Most importantly, it shows up as a lack of progress for student success and learning.

Only the Board, working as a governing unit during an appropriately advertised and convened meeting in public has authority to take any action.  This means the Board has to work as a team whereby perspectives are important but personal agendas are disruptive and obstructionist.

Some folks come into the role of Board member more naturally and are more adept at certain skills but in the end, if we really wish to do well, it requires some dedication to good board practice and work.  Good boardsmanship is something you learn and practice and continually develop.  Its roots come from a keen sense of respect and responsibility to the good of the whole.  Today, perhaps more than ever, we need good boardsmanship to get our work done. Successful boardsmanship can demonstrate how governance can be effective at improving student achievement and building trust with our stakeholders.  Most importantly, our children depend upon you acting as a good board member.

The Association of Alaska School Boards advocates for children and youth by assisting school boards in providing quality public education, focused on student achievement, through effective local governance.

At AASB we offer a wide variety of opportunities for board members to educate themselves and to practice good boardsmanship.  Let me review some of the options for you and your board to consider.

First-term Board Member Webinar Series

A series of 9 webinars are offered beginning in January and running through May (usually 2 per month).  These are presentations and discussions of topics important to your understanding of your role as a board member.  They are usually hosted by an AASB staff member and either an accomplished school board member from around the state or an “expert” of the topic being covered.  The webinars are free, take place during the lunch hour and last approximately 50 minutes.  Each one is recorded and posted on the AASB website for future reference.  Here are the topics we will cover in 2020:

  • Jan 7th – Welcome to the board and AASB Board Standards 
  • Jan 21st – Conducting effective meetings & Roberts Rules of Order Basics
  • Feb 4th – The Superintendent – Building a relationship
  • Feb 18th – School Finance with an Expert!
  • Feb 25th – The Board and the Budget
  • March 10th – Board Policy – Development and Use for Governance
  • April 7th – Working with your Board
  • April 21st – Working with your Community 
  • May 6th – School Law Basics

On-site Board Development Workshops 

AASB staff can visit your district to provide customized board development.  One of the most impactful exercises we facilitate is a board self-evaluation.  It is one of the few times board members have the opportunity to discuss with there fellow members how well the board is working and what challenges need to be addressed.  It is the time for honest, open and forthright conversations.  In addition, we often review and discuss the board’s bylaws.  Other topics may include but are not limited to roles and responsibilities, budget process and oversight, strategic planning, parliamentary procedure, conducting effective meetings, etc.

AASB also has staff specifically specializing in community engagement, social-emotional learning, and cultural responsiveness.  These professionals are part of our Alaska Initiative for Community Engagement

AASB Conferences and Academies

AASB offers several boardsmanship academies for board members, each one focusing on various portions of our board development curriculum.

  • Fall Academy (late September), alternates location between Anchorage and Fairbanks, is 2 days in length and covers topics such as curriculum, personnel, community engagement, etc.
  • Regional Board Development, 1-Day Academies (September or October) these are hosted in various geographic regions of the state on a rotating basis to provide additional, cost-effective board training.
  • School Law and Equity in Education – Winter Academy (mid-December), hosted in Anchorage, this 2-day academy uses one day to focus on school law issues and one day dedicated solely to topics associated with education equity.
  • Leadership Academy and Legislative Fly-in (Early February) this is always held in Juneau and is the start of our advocacy work with the state legislature.  The first day is an academy dedicated to board leadership such as leading change, parliamentary procedure, advocacy training, etc.  The second day is used to orient board members to current legislative issues, the process and to prepare for legislative office visits the next two days.
  • Spring Academy and Legislative Fly-in (late-March) This is always held in Juneau and is the second opportunity for our advocacy work with the state legislature.  The first day is an academy dedicated to various board topics such as CTE, collaboration, board standards, assessments, etc.  The second day is used to orient board members to current legislative issues, the process and to prepare for legislative office visits the next two days.
  • Annual Conference (early November) this is always held in Anchorage and is the largest, most comprehensive conference offered.  The main conference is 3 days in length (Friday through Sunday) and features a keynote address on Friday and Saturday.  There are multiple concurrent sessions on nearly every topic important to school boards.  AASB business meetings and our adoption of resolution processes occur at this conference.  There is a pre-conference day (Thursday), which provides specific training for new board members (Board Room Boot Camp) or the Experienced Members Academy.  That day, important committee works of the association also occur such as resolutions, nominations for the AASB board of directors, awards and budget committee.

In recognition of all of this work a board member may undertake, we have the Carl Rose Boardsmanship Awards Program.  This program tracks each board member’s attendance and participation in each of the board development opportunities including those outside AASB such as the NSBA national conference.  There are three levels of boardsmanship that are recognized, Basic, Experienced and Master.  Each year at the AASB Annual Conference Awards banquet on Saturday night, boardsmanship awards are presented to members attaining any of these three levels.  In addition, the membership recognizes an outstanding school board member with the state with the Carl Rose Governance Award.  Also recognized is the school board of the year.  Either of these awards are a highly regarded recognition of a board member’s commitment to the practice of excellent boardsmanship. 

Effective Board members usually undergo a paradigm shift from a personal agenda mindset to a productive board member perspective.  Its not about giving up what is important to you or your passion, but instead bringing your perspective to the table to help others understand and benefit from it.  Some days you will be successful other days you may find your mind is changed because of another’s view. Good Boards find ways to agree and move forward.  Furthermore, it is the responsibility of the Board as a whole to invest in your success as a well-informed and well-educated Board member so that your students have the best opportunity for an excellent education every day.

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