A Better Board. Better Schools.
Why do school boards matter? The board members do not teach in the classrooms, lead the schools, or manage the main administrative office. Yet, what happens at the school board affects every child in every classroom in every school. What happens at the school board helps determine if we have high quality schools in every part of the county, or we end up with a few successful schools and struggling schools everywhere else. The school board matters because it sets the tone, direction, and values for our schools and our children.
For years, DeKalb suffered from poor leadership, particularly with our Board of Education. Board members were focused on dividing the treasure rather than creating and maintaining great schools. Board members did not hesitate to put our successful schools at risk while doing nothing for the schools that need stronger leadership, more resources, and a commitment to success. Board members did not focus on the greatest need and marginalized significant portions of our population, especially in our migrant communities.
Things were so bad with DeKalb’s past Board of Education that our accreditation agency, SACS, placed our school system on probation. In turn, the Governor removed six members of the Board who were serving at the time SACS put DeKalb on probation. In addition, the DeKalb District Attorney asked for the creation of a Special Grand Jury to investigate the former Board’s squandering of public funds and public trust.
But, things have changed for the better. We are fully accredited. We have a surplus. We have restored pay. We are investing in long-neglected communities. We have rising test scores and graduation rate.
Yet, we should periodically remind ourselves of what a Board of Education should do:
• Commit to creating great schools in every part of DeKalb. Set policies that require such outcomes. Invest in schools that need improvement. Such investments are not all about money—the right principals, teachers, and other personnel make the difference.
• Ensure equity for our students. Needs will differ in different parts of our county. Circumstances will differ among our children. We need to work to make sure we meet our children’s needs where we find them.
• Promote and reward innovation. The Board should guide the system towards innovation. The Board needs to think forward and then empower the Administration to act forward.
• Celebrate our successful schools and clusters. Use them as a model for duplicating success everywhere else.
• Be fiscally responsible. Manage the budget like it is a precious resource. Make sound budgetary decisions. Direct money into the classroom and towards projects that support better results for all children.
• Insist on accountability—both fiscally and in outcomes in our schools. This requires diligence—paying attention to details, asking the right questions, and recognizing when the answers to those questions do not do not support the best outcomes.
• Be Smart. Make wise choices. As technology improves, use it to support our children but also realize that technology alone cannot solve all our challenges. The human element will continue to be important for our children.
All of our children deserve great schools, with wise leadership, and committed and effective teachers. Continuing with our Better Board will help us realize and be proud of our Better Schools.