The fourth and final episode in an “Education Matters” series focusing on school governance highlights how local boards of education can build a better relationship with the community.
Dr. Peter Hughes, superintendent of Haworth School District in Bergen County and a former member of the Kinnelon Board of Education in Morris County; and Kerri Wright, a longtime member of the Chester Board of Education in Morris County and a lawyer with Porzio Bromberg & Newman P.C. who often represents school boards, continue their wide-ranging conversation with Ray Pinney, director of county activities and member engagement at NJSBA, as part of the School Governance Primer series.
Pinney started the segment by posing his guests with a scenario that some board members have faced: You’re in the supermarket or out running an errand when a parent comes up to you and complains about something going on in the district – and wants you to do something about it.
In almost every instance, the response should be to direct that person to the superintendent, an administrator or perhaps a teacher if they’re directly involved, the guests agreed.
“It’s important to realize the board of education is the last court – almost like the Supreme Court,” Hughes said.
It is only when a school or district fails to act on something that should be addressed that a board of education should get involved, Hughes said. “It is important to realize that administrators are the ones who are supposed to do the fixing,” he said.
The School Ethics Act prohibits a board member from acting on something when someone approaches them about an issue at the grocery store, said Wright, who is NJSBA’s 2021-2022 Board Member of the Year. Such requests put board members in an awkward position. “The building level is where parents can get things done the quickest,” she said. “Board members are not allowed to get involved.”
Hughes shared some ways to promote parent involvement, such as meeting with members of the community for coffee. Sometimes, he invites board members to such meetings, so they have an opportunity to hear from members of the community.
“I think it is in our own bests interest to partner with parents and make sure we create those opportunities where administrators can hear that critical piece from the parent population,” Hughes said.
Both of the show’s guests emphasized when a board member acts, it must be a collective action of the entire board – not something they do unilaterally by themselves.
View this episode and others in the School Governance Primer series.