The primary mission of all school boards is to govern, which essentially involves making decisions about such governing products as the annual operating plan and budget and making judgments based on such information as a quarterly financial report and standardized test results. By its very nature, governing is somewhat aloof work, requiring some distance from the welter of day-to-day affairs in order to attain the degree of objectivity that sound decisions and judgments require. Many school board members are also involved in doing hands-on, non-governing work, such as representing the school district in such district events as graduation ceremonies and in such external forums as a League of Women Voters meeting. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with your encouraging your board members to do such non-governing work, which can yield such significant benefits as wider, deeper public support for your district and heightened board member satisfaction. As a really board-savvy superintendent, however, you’ve got to make sure that such non-governing involvement: (1) is intended to help your district achieve an important, board-recognized goal; (2) makes good sense in terms of both district needs and board member qualifications; and (3) is not allowed to interfere with the board’s preeminent responsibility: governing your district.
Many school board community/stakeholder relations committees oversee a robust board member “speakers bureau,” booking board members to speak at such key stakeholder functions as chamber of commerce and rotary luncheons. In this regard, one of the committee’s most important responsibilities, in addition to selecting the highest priority stakeholder forums, is to assure that speakers acquit themselves well at the podium, not only in terms of connecting with the audience and getting key points across, but also providing speakers with an ego satisfying experience (and sparing them the embarrassment that failing at the podium would cause). The key elements of an updated district vision statement certainly provide important speaking points, as do current district priorities (such as the need to build community support for a capital improvements tax levy), critical district issues (such as the need to explain why two schools must be closed over the next two years), and notable district accomplishments (such as a significant improvement in test scores).
Beyond making sure that board speakers are armed with clear speaking points, committees also ensure board member success at the podium by providing them with slides when appropriate and even an opportunity to rehearse their presentations. On occasion, a board member might be joined at the podium by the superintendent or other senior district executive, most often when the issues being discussed are so complex that it would be unrealistic to expect a board member to explain them and field questions alone.