School boards are responsible for setting the vision and goals for the district; adopting policies that give the district direction to set priorities and achieve its goals; setting and overseeing the annual budget; and hiring and evaluating the superintendent. That’s according to the National School Boards Association.
It’s a big job, the importance of which should not be dismissed. Because, as the National School Boards Association points out, “school boards have a significant impact on student achievement in their districts.”
It’s easy to understand how teachers and principals can influence student learning – they’re in contact with students daily. But it’s the school board and its members that set the tenor for the whole district and can and should ensure that everyone – from school custodians to the superintendent to the board itself – are rowing in the same direction.
Sadly, the Johnson County School Board Trustees are not all rowing in the same direction. In fact, the board has devolved to near dysfunction – during the last meeting, the board could not even come to consensus on a simple procedural vote on whether to enter an executive session.
Rowing together does not mean blind allegiance and unanimous votes all the time. It does not mean that there is never discussion or debate. Rather, it means that each board member acts in good faith for the betterment of the district and for each student. It means no board member comes to the meetings to drop bombs, to score points, or to play “gotcha.” It means that while debate may be vigorous, once a decision is made, everyone gets behind the decision and helps to ensure success. There is no room for pettiness or pouting. Same for trying to ensure an administration fails – after all, an administrator’s success is our students’ success.
Three Johnson County School principals resigned at the end of the 2017-18 year. There was also turnover in the district administration office with the departure of the business manager and the superintendent.
At least two of our new administrators who have been on the job less than 9 months are actively seeking new employment outside Johnson County School District.
This kind of turnover is not just cumbersome and expensive for school trustees who must conduct employee searches and make hiring decisions, that kind of instability ultimately can cause a cascade of events: Teacher morale suffers; teacher turnover increases; and eventually, it hurts student achievement. Change is one thing; churn is another entirely and going through administrators at the rate of three or four a year is called churn. It will impact what the district must pay for new administrators and the quality of the pool of candidates that apply. And, if it continues, it will be impossible to hire qualified candidates to fill these important leadership roles at any price.
Our school administrators and teachers can ill afford to suffer the effects of a board of trustees that can’t or won’t learn to row together. But most important, neither can our kids.