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Ask Yourself:

By Staff | Sep 9, 2008

While there is no “ideal” board member profile, the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB) suggests effective members should have the following basic characteristics:

They must have a laser-like focus on improving achievement for all students.

“There’s an ever-increasing urgency around student achievement as Iowa strives to improve education and stay competitive with other states and countries,” said Lisa Bartusek, associate executive director of IASB. “Many schools and states are setting higher expectations for student learning, and if our state wants to remain a leader in the public education system, improving achievement is key.”

They act with professionalism and integrity when monitoring district finances.

School boards are the fiscal stewards of taxpayer dollars. They provide important oversight to ensure the taxpayers’ investments in education have the most impact for the least cost.

They understand the board’s roles and responsibilities.

Boards are elected to set policy and direction, not to run the districts themselves. Instead, the board ensures the district has competent management in the superintendent.

Bartusek added, “An individual board member who attempts to do an administrator’s job will get nowhere, eroding the progress of the district as a whole as it can send mixed messages to the district staff.”

They work well as a member of a team.

“No matter how committed or knowledgeable a person is, if they can’t work well within a team, they won’t get much done,” Bartusek explained.

Look for board candidates who respect differing views, and who also understand that individual members have no authority outside the actions taken at the board meeting, by the board, acting as a corporate body. Candidates should also be good communicators and listeners, and act with fairness and consistency.

They can commit the time and energy required to be effective.

Board members must have a commitment to public service, which requires hours of attending meetings, taking phone calls, listening to constituents and visiting schools. They also must have time to invest in their own learning process when it comes to understanding societal and educational trends.

“You don’t have to be an expert in education or finances to serve on the school board,” Bartusek said. “But understanding the challenges many districts face means that most board members will have to attend workshops and seminars to expand their ability to serve more effectively.”

IASB is a private, non-profit organization serving public school board members. IASB encourages all Iowans to learn about their district’s candidates and to vote in the Sept. 9 election. For more information on school board elections, visit http://www.ia-sb.org‘>www.ia-sb.org