Posted Date: 01/20/2022
Comedian Mitch Hedberg used to say, “I’m against picketing, but I don’t know how to show it.” Similarly, I am for volunteering and public service, but I, too, do not know how to show that. I love the idea of giving my free time to a noble cause. I often sit in church and think that I should offer to help with the choir. And then I reflect on how my husband and I have already repositioned ourselves strategically between our three kids over the course of the first 15 minutes because the older two have made the small one screech, we showed up five minutes late dressed for the world’s finest dumpster dive, and we inadvertently almost set a pew on fire during Easter Vigil service last year with both parents present and attentive.
Sometimes I try to channel that urge to give back into my children’s school activities. When my oldest was in third-grade, the school reached out to me to see if I would be the class’s “Room Mom.” At the time, I told them my schedule was a little hectic, and I pour all the organization I can muster into my work life. I suggested they try others first. They did. I was the winner by default. I recall telling Leslie, our Policy Specialist/Legal Coordinator, that they had selected me from a pile of zero candidates to organize all of the class’s parties, activities, and snacks for the year, and she nearly fell out of her chair laughing. She was not wrong. I was a horrible choice. I feigned surprise when they did not email me the following year asking me to fulfill this prestigious role. Somewhere at Glenwood Ridge Elementary School, there is likely a picture of me on a volunteer blacklist of sorts. And, if not, there should be.
In any case, I have determined that, at this stage of my life, I am best equipped to be a supporting cast member to the real talent, our school board members. It is as Principal McGee said in the movie Grease, “If you can’t be an athlete, be an athletic supporter.”
Did you know you were the talent? You absolutely are, although it may not always feel like it. Critic reviews can be harsh, but they are just the reviews of singular people. Just as I am not likely to leave a review for a product or service that I am satisfied with online, you likely do not get public nods of approval from individuals that think you are doing an excellent job. You probably only hear from the outliers.
Please know that you are appreciated despite it feeling like a thankless job. The work you are doing is so important. Although I have never served on a board of education, I look to my family’s experience. My father served one term on my home district’s school board in the mid-80’s. His was a term with a lot of tough decisions on spending and staffing changes which obviously tainted his experience on the board. My father-in-law, on the other hand, served several terms on his local board and came away with mostly fond memories, or at least that’s my assumption given that he doesn’t tend toward impassioned rants like my side of the family.
While I have never been a school board member, I have been an attorney for school boards for more years than I care to admit now, and I believe I can honestly say that what you are experiencing as a board member right now is unusual. Tensions are exceptionally high, and the spotlight is on you. My father used to say that the hardest part about being a parent is getting used to your heart walking around on the outside of your body. I did not fully understand that until I became a parent and every apparent attack on my child felt like a personal, gut-wrenching attack on me, but one over which I had little control. For years and years, we parents enjoyed uninterrupted school years, and it was understood that students went to school for several months, they would have the summer off, and then the cycle repeated. There were very few mid-year changes in the status quo for parents other than the occasional snow day or a dreaded suspension here and there. COVID-19, the school shutdowns, remote learning, and the precautions schools had to take to keep people safe suddenly changed that comfortable cycle of stability. Around the same time, board meetings that were, in some districts, never streamed online were available for easy viewing by a highly interested public that had already streamed anything worth watching. For our board members that did not know they were getting into showbiz, I can only imagine how stressful the last couple of years have been.
But you know what? You have all had a trial by fire. You have come out the other side battle tested and with experience in dealing with adversity that many board members with longer tenures never truly received. You can do this, and only you can. Use the hand you have been dealt and play it with gusto. You have a unique opportunity to harness this energy and put it into positive change. Know that you have an audience of invested parents, students, and patrons that are watching. Teach them about public education issues impacting your district, tell them about your goals for your local education system, and let’s shift the dialogue away from tabloid trash and into poetry in motion. For the last two years we’ve talked about COVID-19. What’s next?
As you navigate the second act of this improv play, know that we at KASB are here, waiting in the wings, ready to support you, the real talent, as you do wonderful things for Kansas students.