The Dexter Board of Education is currently taking letters of intent in order to fill an open position. As a sitting school board member, I have been asked a few times lately what it’s like to be a board member and how much time it takes. Here are my personal thoughts on what it takes to be a school board member.I have broken it down into three levels of service. I will also be holding three chat opportunities if community members would like to meet in person to get my individual perspective and ask questions. I will also be adding helpful links to my School Board Trustee Facebook Page between now and the application deadline of Feb. 19 at 4 p.m.School board service is what you make of it. That’s the bottom line. The minimum to effectively do your job would include:
- Attend the board meetings. There are generally two meetings a month that last between 2-3 hours. Current board member attendance varies widely, but you would be expected to attend.
- Participate in committee assignments which can add up to 1-2 hours a month per committee. These are scheduled as needed–some committees meet more often than that, and some, less.
- Attend the workshops (one or two per year). These can be 2-3 hours long, and the idea is to have all board members physically present and working together.
- Take the time to study the packet materials for the meetings ahead of time. This could take 1-2 hours per meeting.
- You will also be invited to take the Fundamentals of School Board Service class. It’s a 6-hour class with lunch provided and is usually available in Lansing and Detroit some time during the year. Plan to spend the day there. It’s a great place to meet other new board members and exchange contact information with them. Three out of four new board members since 2012 have taken the training, so that is a majority of us; but it’s not an absolute requirement.
- Volunteer for community chats at 6 p.m. once a month before the board meeting.
- Attend school district sponsored community meetings.
- Actively interact with people in the schools and the greater community to find out what’s important to them. Be professional, direct people to the correct person to contact if appropriate, and discuss only information and issues that are publicly available. Bring what you learn back to your colleagues.
- Take additional board member training on topics of interest. I earned the Certified Board Member Award fairly early on by taking all nine of the level-one classes. Mara Greatorex is actively taking classes when they are available, and will probably earn hers soon as well. You will have the opportunity to register for these courses throughout the year.
- Keep up to date on current education news and events.
- Attending school events such as sports, concerts, and plays.
- Holding “coffee hours.”
- Earning additional board member awards for continuing professional development. This will include seminars on topics such as advanced school law and communicating effectively in difficult times. I will be receiving the Award of Merit and Award of Distinction this year (that’s for 13 classes and 208 education hours). The classes are mostly interacting with other board members, sharing questions and tips, and there is a facilitator present with a PowerPoint presentation. Education hours are seminars, community outreach, advocacy work, and so on. I have found the educational hours to be more meaningful than the classroom experiences, but both can help you magnify your service.
- Looking for other opportunities to serve. Be creative.
To sum up, it’s not a lot of work to phone it in – but please don’t do that! More time and effort are required to do a good job. And some of us like to put even more of ourselves into it than that.
The more you put in, the more you will be able to give back, and the more rewarding your role will be. If you lose sight of what it’s for, you might find yourself exasperated at the length of the meetings, frustrated when people ask questions, and absent more often than you should be. That’s not good for anyone.
And the caveat: being a trustee is an important job, but don’t get too overblown about yourself. You work for the people who elected you, and you should always put the interests of the students first.
One final thought is that I personally think it’s optimal to have board members who are parents of current DCS students. If you are already interacting naturally with people at the bus stop, at volunteer events, and on Facebook; then you already have a great perspective on what’s important to families. Previous board service or regular board meeting attendance as a community member is also a plus, but those experiences can be built upon while in office.
I will be at the Dexter District Library on Feb. 6 (Thursday) at 10 a.m. if anyone would like to talk more about school board service. I will also be there on Feb. 12 (Wednesday) at 7 p.m. and Feb. 13 (Thursday at 1 p.m.). Check my Facebook Page for the exact room location and to check for any scheduling changes.