Educate New Board Members for Success

By Janay Wittek-Balke, APR, Franklin School District

With April showers come May flowers. With school board elections, come new board members.

School districts across Wisconsin welcome new board members each spring to serve an important role for our schools. Thanks to community members committed to kids. They agree to serve in what is often a thankless and demanding job with little or no compensation. Facing difficult budget decisions and responding to parent concerns are often unexpected and confusing situations to new members. So how do we assist and mentor them on the role of the board? How do we educate them on all the jargon and organizational processes related to running a district?

Board School

It is important to note that although we assume citizens understand the operation of our districts, the reality very often is the opposite. Parents and community members run for the school board with a limited amoung of understanding of how we do business. Developing a format where you schedule several classes is a great wat to help new members become familiar with the district and to them them up to speed. Topics to include?

  • Introduce the policies and administrative rules of your district along with reviewing the impact of state statutes on schools.
  • Thoroughly explain and review the budget and the budget process. School funding issues are at the top of the minds of many new board members. The complexity of school budgets and school funding formulas is often an unknown to new board members. The budget is a significant item of board discussion and decisions are in full swing when they join the board in April.
  • Union contracts should be explained and reviewed. This is especially important if negotiations are underway for any and all union groups.
  • Review your strategic plan or organization goals to let them know the priorities of the district.
  • Briefly outline the curriculum , the process for textbook and course adoptions, and professional development programs.

Board Handbook

Develop a handbook for board members outlining procedures, calendars, and other general rules and operations of the board. If the board has yearly goals or norms, include them in the handbook.

Mentor Program

Designate an experienced board member to serve as a member to a new board member. This will help develop relationships and build your board team. Informal conversations are a good way for new board members to begin to understand the dynamics of the group.

Face-to-Face Conversations

Getting to know someone on a personal level is a key component to building good rapport and a relationship of trust. This is especially imporant for the district administrator.

  • Schedule one-on-one breakfast meetings with your new board members to create a more relaxed conversation. Get to know them and the expectations they may have for their term, in addition to their knowing the superintendent’s role with the board.
  • Invite your administrative team to a small reception to introduce your new board members to your administrative team. It is often uncomfortable for an administsrator to meet a board member for the first time when presenting a controversial topic at a board meeting.
  • Take them on a tour of schools. It is likely they have visited only the schools their children attend or have not visited any schools if they do not have chldren currently enrolled.

There are many ways to engage and welcome new members to your school board. These are only a few examples to consider in your district. The most important point to realize is that it is not important what you do to welcome them, but rather your willingness and effort to facilitate a smooth and comfortable transition.

About the author

The Wisconsin School Public Relations Association (WSPRA) is a professional association representing schools, school districts, educational associations, consulting agencies and organizations. WSPRA is a state affiliate of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA). 4797 HAYES ROAD | SUITE 103 | MADISON, WI 53704 | PHONE: 608-241-0300 | WSPRA@AWSA.ORG