Advocating from the School Board Bench

In the era of No Child Left Behind, we’ve heard a great deal about how local school boards have no productive role in 21st century education.  Some see the power shifting toward the states and the federal government, with school boards simply left to rubber stamp what comes from on high.  Others, like the Fordham Institute’s Checker Finn, seem to think such boards are just a breeding ground for political wannabes or former district employees with an axe to grind.

But as someone who actually serves on one of those local school boards, Eduflack can say there is a real role for local school boards to play in advocating for policies that can improve opportunity and success for all students.  There is a place to champion effective instruction and learning.  And there is a way to help build a better mousetrap to to address those directives coming from the feds or the state.
Don’t believe me?  I’m ok with that.  But you should believe Fred Deutsch.  Mr. Deutsch is a member of the Watertown School Board in South Dakota.  We actually became friends over this blog years ago, as he would provide insights on how my national opining here was playing out on the ground in his community in South Dakota.  And as I’ve learned over the years, he really is dealing with the very best and the very worst in local public education, with the latest being plans to cut back to a four-day school week in South Dakota due to budget shortfalls.
Despite those challenges, Fred has been a passionate advocate for school board member advocacy.  His work has been featured nationally, and he has led presentations to help local school board members find their advocacy voice.  And since I posed a question to EdSec Arne Duncan for his Twitter town hall today on what the role of local school boards should be in our post-NCLB, waiver environment, I thought it appropriate to highlight some of the recommendations offered by Fred:
* At the heart of school board advocacy is the belief that people that know best are those closest to the child
* Part of the job of school board members is to represent the best interests of our children to those that make the laws
* We must share our stories.  Legislators must understand how the decisions they make impact our children at the local level
* The “Foundation of Effective Advocacy” is to develop one’s “relationships, facts, and passion”
* Invest yourself into development relationships with lawmakers — but not just during session.  To win the advocacy game, we need to develop and nurture relationships throughout the year
* Understand the data
Deutsch also focuses a great deal on passion.  Passion: It’s what drives us.  It is what stirs us to action.  It overcomes roadblocks.  It persists through failure.  And it persists through crap.
For those who would like to see Fred Deutsch’s full PowerPoint, it can be found here.  The deck is also full of many useful links for finding information, with a distinct South Dakota flavor.
As local school boards prepare for yet another unpleasant budget cycle, Deutsch’s points are important ones for us to consider.  He paints a picture of a school board that is informed, engaged, and involved.  It is a snapshot of a board with a mission and with clear goals.  And it is a diagram of a school board that serves the community, the schools, and, most importantly, the students.
Important lessons to digest and employ.  And kudos to Fred Deutsch, the Watertown School Board, and the many school boards like it that serve to have a real impact on the learning and achievement of all students.  

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