Hitting the books at school board school
From bulky agendas to angry parents, would be members of the District 192 School Board got a sneak peek last month at what they might be getting themselves into.
The district's community education department offered two sessions in April to introduce potential candidates to what it means to be a school board member.
Community education director Heidi Cunningham proposed the class as a way to ease candidates into what she calls a huge learning curve.
"I thought, how do you get people to even consider running for a position like this when there's not a lot of information ahead of time," Cunningham said.
The sessions did not draw large crowds. The first, April 20, drew just one district resident. The second, April 28, drew two. Each meeting featured a presentation on the role of the board member and the structure of the district, but the sessions diverged from there, focusing on the questions the potential candidates wanted answered. Residents who attended got a copy of the district's annual report and a list of possible discussion topics that included state standards, balancing the budget and special services.
"We just wanted it to be where people could come in and ask questions," Cunningham said. "The way we advertised it is, you didn't even have to be interested in running for the board. It was open for the public."
There wasn't a lot of school board-specific discussion at the April 28 session. Residents Brian Treakle and Shelby Lunzer asked questions about curriculum and the environmentally friendly features of the new Farmington High School building. They covered a long list of the acronyms that come along with working in education, from AYP to ELL to MCA.
(That's adequate yearly progress, English language learners and Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, for anyone who's wondering).
Lunzer isn't necessarily interested in running for the school board, but she wanted to know how to propose curriculum for district schools. She was interested in adding a required course in personal finance to the high school curriculum.
Treakle was more enthusiastic about a future on the school board. His wife is involved in a districtwide committee and Treakle figured he needed to do something to get involved. He said he wants to be part of making the school district great for his children and other students.
"I've wanted to be involved in education for a long time," Treakle said. "I wanted to show my kids, too, that this isn't exactly a money position. It's a position to give back something."
Last week's session gave Treakle plenty of reasons to be skeptical about running for the board. Former board member Craig Davis talked about the need to have a thick skin to deal with resident complaints, and superintendent Brad Meeks talked about the time commitment that's required to prepare for regular board meetings and for the committees on which each board member serves.
Treakle said he enjoyed the opportunity to spend an hour and a half discussing a subject about which he is passionate.
"Something like this just fired me up," he said.
He got some encouragement from Davis as well. Asked for advice, Davis suggested both Lunzer and Treakle get as much information as they can by attending board meetings and talking with current board members. Then he started to sound like a shoe commercial.
"Do it," he said.
Despite the meager attendance Cunningham said she was happy with her first attempt at a educating school board members.
"I wouldn't mind doing this on an annual basis so people would just expect this would happen," Cunningham said. "So they would know there would be an opportunity to come and gain insightful information whether or not they were interested in running for a school board position."