“Welcome New Board Members,” is a phrase I have uttered countless times – at NJSBA’s orientation programs, at Workshop, at county programs, and at meetings of my own board. Every time I say it I think back to when I was a new board member 25 years ago, and was just starting out on this journey.
When I do meet new board members, they often have questions for me about board service. But they’re sometimes surprised when I tell them that we veteran members also have lessons to learn from the newbies.
Here is what I want to tell new board members:
You have a lot to learn.
What I often hear from board members with a few months’ experience under their belts is “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” This job that you’ve signed up for as a school board member is one that involves familiarity with a specialized body of knowledge. To do the job well, you need to know something about education law, curriculum, finance, labor relations and policy. You don’t have to know everything – your superintendent, business administrator and the entire staff of NJSBA is here to help you. But trust me: As a new board member you have a lot to learn. Listen carefully at board meetings, don’t hesitate to ask questions when you are unsure about something, and do your homework.
You can’t accomplish anything single-handedly.
You are one member of a team that includes not only your fellow board members, but also the professionals working in your district. If you have joined a board with the idea that you are going to single-handedly install a new curriculum or restore courtesy busing to your neighborhood, you’re in for a surprise. Remember you have one vote out of a board of perhaps seven or nine members. That means you need to cooperate and work productively with your fellow board members and the district administrators. That’s how things really get done.
You need training – and it is easily available.
If you haven’t signed up for new board member orientation training, do so as soon as possible. In the meantime, NJSBA can provide you with the tools to become a better board member immediately. Come to your county school boards association meetings to learn about topics such as labor relations, school law, special education, sustainability, and STEM education. You will also have an opportunity to network with other board members. Our annual Workshop at the Atlantic City Convention Center typically offers nearly 200 training programs. There are other NJSBA programs throughout the year, and online offerings on the NSJBA website. If all else fails and you can’t find the information you need, contact your local field service representative, who will help you navigate NJSBA’s resources and get help for you.
Here is what I like to see from new board members:
A reminder of the enthusiasm that comes with being a brand new board member.
As a new board member, what you don’t need to learn is how to care about your community’s schools. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t care. Sometimes we board member veterans get a little world-weary. Seeing the energy and enthusiasm that new members bring to a board is invigorating for us, and reminds us why we signed on, too.
Often new board members bring specialized expertise and new ideas to a school district. Both are valuable commodities. School districts face unprecedented challenges these days. Thinking outside of the box is welcomed!
What the community is thinking.
New board members typically have ties to different community members than veteran board members. If the new board member is young, he or she may be connected to parents of young elementary school students; while veteran board members may have older or grown children and may not know many people from this demographic anymore. I am always interested in hearing about the concerns of community members, and new board members are often a great source of information on the topic.
Learning the skills necessary to be an effective school board member takes time and effort, but it is satisfying to know that you are contributing to one of society’s most noble goals: helping all children learn and achieve their full potential. Welcome to the board.