With the arrival of September our minds turn to the beginning of another school year with all of its inherent excitement, potential and challenges. But for school trustees in BC this isn’t just another year. It’s your legacy year!
It may seem like a very long way off but the next trustee elections in BC are just 60 weeks away! In 2014 the provincial government switched trustees to a four year term and set the next election for the third Saturday in October, 2018. That means that just over a year from now BC trustees will be in full election mode, making this the last full year to achieve district, board and personal goals – your legacy year!
Let’s start with your main (and really only) purpose as a trustee – student achievement. At the beginning of your term your board and senior staff set goals for improving learning outcomes for the students in your district – overall achievement and targets for areas that needed specific focus. So how is that working out? Have the goals been met? Are you making sufficient movement in the right direction? If not, why not? Although not all learning factors are in a board’s control, research has shown that what happens in the boardroom does have an impact on results in the classroom. Now is the time to ask yourselves some tough questions about what difference your board is really making for students in your district and what you can do in the coming months to move closer to those goals you set a couple of years ago.
The second focus at the district level is your fiduciary responsibilities. Although the amount of money coming in is largely preset, how it’s allocated and managed is your responsibility. For the first time in decades BC school districts are facing a rare challenge – extra funding to hire more teachers for more classrooms. With the stroke of the Supreme Court’s pen we have gone from closing schools to scrambling to hire more teachers. This is putting significant operational pressure on many districts, but this is also where those previously established good governance processes come into play. When the dust settles later this term take some time to review not just the outcomes of your district’s operational decisions, but the tools and processes that got you there.
You can’t ask the question, “Is your district in better shape now than at the beginning of your term?”, without asking the same question about the board itself. As I have said multiple times in this blog, good governance processes make a difference. But board work is people work and that can be messy. Great boards don’t just happen because the citizens made the right choices in the last election. The characteristics of successful boards are well documented (see other posts and references on this site) and I firmly believe that every board can be great if they are willing to learn together, work hard together, and put aside egos and partisan politics.
Now is the time to ask yourselves about how well your board is living those characteristics for success. Do you have the right processes in place? Are you supporting, developing and assessing your superintendent? Are you building relationships with your community, parents, staff? Are you growing as a board? The rules, tools and attitudes you leave behind will set the stage for the success of the next board and the whole district. Now is the time to reflect on your board’s governance practices through a solid self-review process and with the help of your provincial trustee association.
You ran in the last election for good reasons – probably mostly altruistic but all deeply personal. I’m sure there have been times after difficult meetings where you have asked yourself, “Why am I doing this?”. Good question, but not just during the tough times. What did you personally hope to achieve when you put your name down on the nomination form? What have you given? How have you grown? How have you helped the rest of the board? Are you proud of the work you have done?
These are important questions to ask yourself now, a good year away from deciding whether you will run again. Whether this is your first term or one of many, you need to be doing this work because you feel you are making a difference and on balance, there are more good days than bad. Being a school trustee isn’t a recreational activity. Although it is demanding of both time, mind and heart, it can be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do – shaping the conditions for the success of students and the future they will build.
Whether this will be your last term or you are ready to sign up for another, make the year ahead your best. Revisit the hopes and excitement you had after the last election. Ask yourself what else you can do in the next twelve months to move closer to, or even exceed those personal goals.
If you do decide that this will be your last year you have one more really important task – find your replacement! Look for others in your community to whom you can pass the torch. Encourage them. Invite them to board meetings. Get them as excited as you were when you started.
In summary, as you enter the coming school year, this is the time to be thinking about legacy – your district’s, your board’s and your own. You are engaged in critically important matters – democracy and the success of our future citizens. What can you do in the coming months to ensure that you are leaving the district and the board in better shape than when you found it? What can you do now to be able to say to yourself that come this time next year you served well and that you made a positive difference? All who have served before you can attest that there is no fame or fortune in trusteeship, but there can be a deep sense of satisfaction knowing that you have made a difference.
What will you leave behind for others? Answer that and you will have found your legacy.
Stephen Hansen Boardswork.CA