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School Boards Demystified | GUEST OPINION
As a school board director for Arlington Public Schools, not many days go by without having a school related conversation with someone in the community. The topics and questions run the entire gamut from district policy to classroom concerns. However, inevitably, the discussion often turns to a question on everyone’s mind, “How did you get on the school board and what do you do?”
Despite the fact that school boards have been in operation in Washington (Territory and State) since the mid-1800s, they still perplex many people. This isn’t surprising since state public school systems are complex. They are “shaped by federal law, the state constitution, state law, administrative rules adopted by the Superintendent of Public instruction (OSPI), the State Board of Education (SBE) and WSSDA at the state level, educational service districts (ESD’s) at the regional level, and school districts at the local level.” (Serving on Your Local School Board, WSSDA). If you are among the ranks of the confused, you now have permission to feel better.
Simply put, Washington’s 295 local school districts and boards derive their authority from the state legislature and act to improve public school programs and the administration of the school districts.
In Arlington, our district is split geographically into five areas. Every board candidate must reside within the boundaries of their area and participate in our county elections. Board terms are four years long and elections are staggered so that some positions are open for election every two years. In addition, we have two non-voting student representatives on the board. They apply and interview in the spring, and serve a two-year term during their junior and senior years.
The other key component of local governance is the role of the district superintendent. The school board has the authority to recruit, hire, and supervise one employee — the superintendent. The superintendent is most often likened to a private company CEO; his/her job is to assemble a leadership team and carry out the will of the board, transforming vision and policy into action. Our superintendent has formed a cabinet of four directors; they oversee the areas of Teaching and Learning, Human Resources, Financial Services, and Operations.
The Arlington school board/superintendent Working Agreement states that we “work together to fulfill our mutually complementary roles.” Chief among our objectives is to provide a vision and set district-wide goals, allocate resources, ensure accountability through data driven progress reports, communicate and collaborate with the community, and use the local board’s discretionary powers to differentiate the education provided to Arlington’s youth.
These goals are pursued and accomplished in many different ways. With respect to a vision, the district developed a dynamic Strategic Plan. This over-arching plan is used by district staff to align their annual building and departmental plans and set measurable goals. Throughout the year, the school board receives progress reports — at public board meetings, during the course of day-long workshops, and at site visits throughout the district. All of this feedback aids us in the development of our annual budget and the all important allocation of resources. We consider our diverse student population, our human resource requirements, the condition of our many facilities, our curriculum, our extracurricular needs, our state, federal and local funding, our service contracts and inter-ocal agreements, and much more. And, as a local board, we look to the Arlington community for direction and support. We do so in many formal and informal ways, being active and engaged parents and community members, being present at school and town events, and being reachable by phone or email every day of the year.
As the newest member of the Arlington school board, I am very fortunate to be working with four outstanding colleagues who have a combined 52 years of school board service, an exceptional superintendent and a super-charged workforce of teachers and staff. I invite you to attend a school board meeting sometime soon; we meet the second and fourth Monday of most every month. Our calendar and working papers (packet) are always available online at www.asd.wednet.edu under the district tab. Come see what it’s all about.
Ursula Ghirardo, is the President of the Board of Directors for Arlington Public Schools and can be reached by calling 360-435-5110 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.