Thursday, October 18, 2018

What Makes An Effective NLCS Board Member?

by JoAnna Kai Cobb

‘Tis the season! About a month ago, I started noticing campaign signs appearing on my running routes. A few turned into a plethora, and now our city is dotted with the little colorful billboards promoting different candidates in the community. However, instead of endorsing senatorial contenders and representatives, most of Lawrence County’s signs are advertising school board candidates.

As a local educator in her sixteenth year of service, I want to share both my thoughts on the biggest concerns I have for North Lawrence Community Schools and my opinion on the characteristics of an effective school board member who will face these issues head-on.

My interest in these issues comes not only from wanting the very best for the youth of Lawrence County, but also from desiring the best future for our community in general. As Whitney Houston once sang, “I believe the children are our future.” Investing in the youth of our community builds the foundation for the Lawrence County of years to come.

For whom should you vote for NLCS School Board? That decision belongs to you. My aim is to share my expert opinion on the critical issues that will be facing those who are elected so that voters know what is at stake.

Adjusting to a New Age

As an ever-evolving entity, education looks different today than it ever has in the past. More models and resources are available to students, teachers, and administrators, not just to utilize for learning, but also to set up a framework for optimal learning.

NLCS has embraced technology through 1:1 devices for students, in its course offerings, with professional development, and more. In my classroom, I have enjoyed watching technology usage transform from a classroom novelty to a classroom norm and necessity.

However, modern education isn’t about only technology and curriculum; it’s about making informed decisions so that our students may do their best learning. At the administrative level, that decision-making involves setting up school calendars, daily schedules, other policies, and opportunities that will be best for student learning.

It is vital that such informed decisions are based upon outside research and inside data. An effective school board member is excited to both initiate and play an active role in this analysis in order to learn what types of changes will be best for the corporation’s students. He or she also knows that conclusions deemed best for students of the past aren’t necessarily best for the students of today.

For example, using e-learning days in lieu of snow make-up or other unconventional mid-week breaks, such as Election Day, would give NLCS students a chance to experience a different kind of learning while maintaining continuity. Researching how corporations similar to NLCS implement such a policy, troubleshoot problems, and experience successes would be a step in providing the same opportunities for Lawrence County students.

An effective school board member recognizes stagnancy, and makes informed changes based on careful research and data collection.

Attracting and Retaining Staff

The salaries of NLCS certified staff are the lowest in the area. (The Master Contract is publicly available and may be viewed at this link.) A decades-old government funding formula is often cited as the reason for the disparity. Regular insurance premium hikes compound the problem.

This topic may initially seem self-serving. While it would be nice to have a salary that allowed me the possibility of working only one job and maintaining a cost of living, my worry is not for myself. My worry is for the students whose teachers are leaving.

Because believe me—they are leaving, and not for different roles in education nor careers in new fields. They are leaving to teach classrooms in different corporations in order to make more money doing the exact same jobs. Many of these teachers are not relocating nor are they escaping tough conditions. They are living in Lawrence County and teaching in different corporations, for up to $17,000 more per year, doing the same job they were doing at NLCS.

This situation directly harms students because NLCS is unable to attract and retain a full staff of talented teachers. As an interview committee member at my school, I have seen the hiring process devolve from sifting through many stellar résumés, to interviewing the only candidate to apply. Our corporation and thus our students, who deserve the best and the brightest educators, are often overlooked by applicants who sensibly choose a nearby corporation with a much more competitive salary.

Teacher salaries are not the only area of the budget that needs help, so the cooperation and creativity of many board members, administrators, and other NLCS officials will be necessary to form a plan and fulfill a solution. Open-mindedness, perhaps to unconventional ideas, will be required to acknowledge the problem, address the problem, and answer the problem.

An effective school board member recognizes this financial issue as one of the most critical concerns facing NLCS and is eager to resourcefully seek solutions.

Corporation Communication

Finally, the previously mentioned issues will all be better addressed with open and impartial communication. Our corporation is strewn with diverse employees, all with different ideas and concerns. Often, perhaps because of the sheer size of our corporation, many employees feel they don’t have an avenue to share those concerns.

Strong relationships between board members, administration, faculty, and staff can be built through regular and welcome communication. Such communication can begin and continue through informal meetings, board meetings, team building events, shared professional development, school visits, and more. These entities will trust one another when they realize all involved harbor no vendettas and want only the best for students. Professional communication free of judgment will follow.

An effective school board member recognizes the need for open, impartial communication among all employees and advertises and facilitates that process in order to inclusively and efficiently solve minor and major corporation problems.

Bottom Line

While there are many more matters of concern facing NLCS, these issues are the three I feel are most critical to putting students in the best position to learn and achieve. Despite any issues at hand, your votes for Board of Directors for North Lawrence Community Schools should go to individuals who are hard-working, informed agents of change who will put students and their learning and achievement above all other matters.

There will be a free candidate forum at Bedford Middle School’s Schafer Auditorium at 6:00 P.M. on Monday, October 22. Attend, and hear what the candidates have to say. Listen for evidence of student-centered approaches. If you cannot attend, learn more about the candidates through meet-and-greets, interviews, or their websites.

My motivation to share my thoughts comes from a deep love of this community and the young people who live and learn in it. I want what is best for them, which is what is best for all of us.