KASB President’s Perspective: Your service on local school board will change the future

By C. Patrick Woods
KASB President
Topeka USD 501

When most people think of elected officials, they think of the Governor, their member of Congress, or their state legislators. These high-profile elected offices are no doubt important; they make the policy that governs our state’s institutions, like our systems for public safety, health and human services, and public finance, just to name a few. However, there are many other critical elected offices at the local level of government which, as your high school government teacher always taught, actually have a more direct effect on your life as an individual.  As a parent and a Kansan with a vested interest in the future prosperity of the state, I believe that the most important of these local elected offices is … local school board member.   

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Shocker!  The president of the Kansas Association of School Boards thinks that his office is the most important. Big surprise!” as the eyes roll.  However, I offer as evidence to back up my claim the words directly from Article 2 of the Kansas Constitution, which states that all public schools are to be, “maintained, developed and operated by locally elected boards.”  This means that the direction of our institution of public education – the very institution that separated the newly independent United States from all other countries, which thrust the fledgling country ahead of all others during the industrial revolution, which allowed for the success of our democracy, and has been our nation’s defining project – is completely in the hands of nearly 2,000 everyday Kansans who chose to serve. And this is no small responsibility. For after all, without our institution of free and public education, we would have no doctors or nurses to practice and perfect the healing arts; no innovators to lead economic growth; no skilled craftsmen to keep the world up and running. 

These 2,000 local school board members take into their hands every day the responsibility of governing the districts that educate the state’s children, including mine, setting them on course for the future.  Each of these public servants renders this service for free. Under state statute, school board members are the only public officers who cannot receive a salary for their service.  However, I can unequivocally state that my service on my local board has been the most rewarding work of my working life, and I encourage anyone with a desire to serve to consider running for their local board of education.  I offer three reasons why more Kansans should consider serving on their local school boards: 

You can be a “game-changer” for kids.  Local school boards, more than any other elected office, have the opportunity to help every child achieve their potential. As we all know, education is the one capital asset that, once acquired, never ceases to pay dividends to the holder. Once a child has learned to read, to think critically, to master the concepts underlying science, math and the arts, they can apply that knowledge to solve every problem that they encounter in their professional and personal lives. Moreover, we know that education is the most effective tool to level the playing field for students who are disadvantaged. For every wave of social progress achieved in this country – legally abolishing the immoral institutions of slavery and Jim Crow, establishing and advancing the right to vote for all Americans, the continual battle to ensure the ability for each wave of new immigrants to participate in the economy – education has been the common tool utilized to realize these achievements. As a local school board member, it is your constitutional responsibility to work with your six colleagues to shape the organization through policy toward these results. Your work will be critical to help children develop their talents and achieve their potential. 

Make a personal investment in your community.  There are many ways to invest in your community – you could volunteer at your local Big Brothers Big Sisters organization or manage a community garden. But when you decide to serve as a local school board member, you’ve committed yourself to that service for 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, for at least four years. You’ll spend your evenings working with your colleagues, talking with patrons, and thinking about student needs and achievement all in service of your mission to lift every student to achieve their potential.   

Witness your direct impact in your community. As a local school board member, you’ll have a direct impact in the stewardship of our state’s most precious resource – our children. While it’s easy to view a locally elected office, so close to the people that it serves, as less powerful than a seat in the Statehouse, it is precisely that proximity to those served that allows the servant to see their impact. There are few things more rewarding than venturing into a classroom and seeing talented teachers leading engaged learners in new, innovative programs that are the result of board direction. For after all, the fulfillment of every district’s core mission of teaching and learning is governed by its democratically elected board of education. In my case, this has meant working with my board to increase opportunities for early childhood education, which has led to increased school readiness and decreased achievement gaps among students; leading the board to bring dual language education to the district and creating Northeast Kansas’ first two-way immersion program, Scott Magnet, which has lifted achievement among an entire school; and working with my colleagues to create Kanza Education and Science Park, offering our students a host of new STEM learning opportunities through partnerships with local businesses and industry. As a local school board member, you will see your work affecting the lives of the people that you are serving. 

So yes, local school board positions may not be as glamorous as other elected offices. And for sure, there is a fair amount of frustration that comes with the office. However, there is no greater service than that which is rendered on behalf of children, and I can think of no more effective vehicle for such service than local boards of education. So, if you’re looking to make the world a better place through public service, please consider dedicating your time (and your whole self) to this noble cause. Your service on the board will help build our future workforce, strengthen the social fabric of our communities, and ensure our economic vitality.  Most importantly, your service on your local board of education could mean the difference in a child’s ability to realize their God-given potential. You don’t have to be perfect to be an effective board member (prime example is a veteran board member as imperfect as me).  One only needs a desire to serve. 

To learn more about running for school board, please visit www.kasb.org. 

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