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How to Get Involved in Education Policy With a Pencil and 2 Friends

Or: Why Local School Boards Should Be More Important to Us as a Country

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I heard something on the radio last week that made me stop dead in my tracks. Like a good southern girl, I gasped out loud and clutched my pearls. Like my newfound, saucier New England self, I thought "WTF" (what the farfegnugen, by the way-I'm still a good southern girl).  

The story was about a local school board election in the nearby town of Hadley, MA, with two open seats up for grabs. Only one person was running for one of the seats, and a local parent decided to become a write-in candidate for the other open seat. He felt that having only four people on a five-person board would be detrimental for Hadley's students, so he stepped up.

And he won with three votes.

Not three votes more than someone else, but three votes, total.

He wrote his name in. His wife wrote his name in. And a family friend did the same.

Three votes. Total.

And he won the seat.

HE WON. With a pencil and two friends.

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My passion is policy and teacher leadership, so I support teachers on a daily basis with issues of policy, practice, and advocacy. In the graduate class I facilitate, we have talked to former school board members, discussed school board issues and budgets, we even have a handful of teachers considering running for local school committees or school boards. I believe that all educators should have a foundation in policy, for almost everything we do in our jobs as teachers is attached to a classroom, school, district, state, or federal policy. Policy is like the puppeteer pulling the marionette strings that control what we can or can't do in our classrooms. Policy know-how is now essential knowledge to the changing role of a teacher.

And local school governance is a thankless job. Usually one that politicians fill as an entrée into politics. It's step number one to something bigger and better.

But our students deserve something bigger and better as well, right? Local school boards full of members who are primed and ready to make integral, well-informed decisions that impact their future.

So I wish Kevin Shannon luck at his first day on his new job on May 1. I'm thankful that he saw a potential issue with an open and unfilled seat and had the courage to step forward. I'm appreciative that he grabbed a pencil and two votes, and began his foray into politics.

But I'd like to use this as a wake-up call for educational change and impact.

If we want to help improve public schools for every child, we have to do better than having local school board seats left unfilled or using them as stepping stones towards political careers. We care more than that as a country, right?

Local school governance is a vitally important job. Our students deserve better than seats left unfilled. Or seats filled temporarily as a ladder rung up and out.

So my call to action: Let's be strategic and thoughtful about leadership. Let's talk about why people are or aren't entering local school governance. If we want to improve education, we have to do better than that.  

Photos courtesy of Raynermedia and Tim Taylor.

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