One of your key responsibilities as a local school board member is to engage and inform your community. The board serves as the connection between the community and its schools, making it essential for you to understand what’s going on in each place and how the two work together.
Your board, along with the superintendent, can set the standard for how the governance team and district communicate with community members.
Role of the School Board
1. Set the Expectations
The board should work closely with the superintendent in setting expectations for how the team of eight, district staff, and individual trustees interact with the community. It’s essential that the district's community engagement and empowerment plan aligns with the district’s goals and priorities and is clear and easy to understand.
2. Work as a Team
It is vital that the board works closely with the superintendent in building the expectations and plan for engaging the public. The board initiates this work by cultivating a relationship, establishing trust, and getting the superintendent rooted in the community. The superintendent then becomes the point person who ensures that the community engagement and empowerment plan is developed in detail and carried out with fidelity.
As the “chief trust-building officer,” the superintendent will be the primary person in most districts, especially in smaller ones, who will interact with other local governmental entities like city councils, county commissions, and service organizations. An important part of their job, along with the local school board, is to build and maintain trust with these entities as well as with individuals, like parents. The board and superintendent should have a mindset of building mutual trust and understanding with all segments of the community.
3. Develop a Simple Plan
Building a systematic plan for engaging and empowering the community is important. The plan will highlight key focus areas, such as which groups to engage and what messages to share. It doesn’t have to be a complicated plan, yet it should have enough detail so that the board, superintendent, and key staff members understand and know their roles in engaging and empowering local community members.
Here’s an example.
Imagine that one of your district’s priorities is to improve elementary literacy. A plan for communicating with the community might be to:
- Inform the public about what the district is doing to improve literacy.
- Get input from a cross section of the community.
- Develop an advisory committee about early childhood literacy that includes different stakeholders.
- Get the board actively involved in a community listening campaign, with a special emphasis on parents of children in your district’s schools.
Role of Board Members
So, what can individual board members do to help engage and empower residents and connect them with their local schools?
1. Listen to the Community
One of the best things that board members can do is to actively listen to community members. The key is to understand what community members want for their district’s schools and classrooms. Trustees should be empathetic when hearing concerns and complaints that parents and others might have, showing that they care about the student. Listening to truly understand where people are coming from is a critical tool that all trustees can use. Listening is essential and perhaps the most important part of your local community engagement and empowerment plan.
2. Respond to the Community
As a trustee, you know that listening is important, and it’s often all that is necessary. However, there will be times that you’ll need to respond to questions, concerns, and comments from community members. When responding as an individual trustee, you can guide people in the right direction to have their concerns addressed. Know your district’s plan for engaging with the community and always be empathetic in your response.
3. Invite the Community To Engage With the District
Beyond engaging with members of the public, many districts take it a step further and empower their community to be a strong voice in guiding the district’s efforts. Some districts do this by having different types of committees that parents and community members serve on, allowing them to be actively involved in guiding the direction of activities and programs in the district.
Trustees can impact this engagement by nominating parents and community members to serve on these committees. Individual trustees can ensure that these committees reflect different voices that are represented throughout your city or town. This is important in getting a better understanding of the hopes, dreams, and suggestions for improvement from all segments of the community.
Importance of Having a Plan
Texas public schools are there for the benefit of the students and community. Having a systematic plan in place to engage and empower your community is essential to building and maintaining trust between the school district and residents. All board members play an imperative role in this process.
Esperanza Orosco has been a Board Development Services consultant since 2021. Before joining TASB, Orosco was a bilingual teacher in Hays CISD for 11 years. She is currently a member of the Hays CISD Board of Trustees and has served as president and vice president. As a board development consultant, Orosco has presented on topics including social contracts, implementing employee-friendly policies and initiatives, the role of board officers, and how to run effective board meetings. She facilitates the Board Officer Institute. As part of her consulting work, she has mentored and coached board members and teachers.
Orosco earned her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of the Incarnate Word and a Master of Education in elementary education from Texas State University.
David Koempel has worked at TASB since 1985. During his time as a board development consultant, he has trained school board members in a variety of topics, including strategic planning for school districts, crisis communication, and collaborative communication. Koempel is known for his expertise in parliamentary procedure and for helping boards run effective meetings. He is a skilled facilitator who leads highly interactive board development experiences and is passionate about board development.
Koempel has a bachelor’s degree in marketing from St. Edwards University and a Master of Science in interdisciplinary studies, with an emphasis on organizational development and marketing, from Southwest Texas State University. He is a Crucial Learning® certified trainer for Crucial Conversations and a trained mediator.