Last week, I had the honor of recognizing a gentleman who has served his community as a school board member for more than half a century.   You read that correctly: 50 years! Calvin Back, the president of the Middle Township Board of Education in Cape May County, first joined his board at the age of 27. When Calvin started on his board, John F. Kennedy was in the White House.

He has also served as president of the board for 37 years.  When I spoke with him at the Cape May County School Boards Association meeting, he joked that it took him 13 years to work his way up the ranks to be president.  But Calvin Back’s longevity on his board is more than an interesting statistic; it is a source of strength to his district.

Stability is an asset to an organization. Long-term goals are achieved when there is long-term focus on those goals, and having consistency in leadership is a virtue.

Calvin’s time on his board made me think about a speech I presented not long ago to a group of aspiring superintendents in which I discussed, with apologies to author Steven Covey, the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective School Districts.”  I saw several of those qualities on display last week.

For one thing, board members need to be knowledgeable about issues confronting the district and have an informed viewpoint.  Calvin Back’s long-term experience on the board brings with it a wealth of institutional memory. It also helps that he served as a fire official in his community for many years. My guess is that he knows Middle Township as well as just about anyone else.  And as you might surmise from his successful—and repeated—reelection to the board presidency, he is well respected among his colleagues and his fellow citizens.

Our field service representatives see a wide variety of boards in action, and Middle Township, they report, operates in a respectful, collaborative manner: All opinions are aired and debated in an exemplary fashion, and new ideas are always welcome.  In that way, the board reflects the example set by its president.  When I met Calvin Back, I was struck by his kind and humble manner.  He deflected the attention that was focused on him.  In fact, he passed on the opportunity to speak about his experiences and, instead, wanted to focus on another Cape May County board member who was receiving a milestone award for 20 years of service.

Another key to an effective school district is having the school board and the superintendent form an effective leadership team and work together to achieve mutually established goals and objectives.  Three of Middle Township’s superintendents (two former CSAs and the current one) were present last week to congratulate Calvin Back – an indication of how esteemed he has been by the district’s operational chiefs, and how well the board works with the superintendent. These are all characteristics of a healthy school district.

I thought I held a record for attending weeknight meetings over the years. After learning about Calvin’s dedication to his school district, I have a new benchmark to measure service to a community’s schools.

“He’s a treasure,” said one attendee at last week’s Cape May County meeting.  “An example to us all” is how I would describe him.

These are my Reflections. Please share your thoughts on long-term board members who have served as leaders and role models.  Contact me at feinsodreflections@njsba.org

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