School Board Succession Planning

By Del Stover

Most school board members know that their district would be better off if they encouraged, recruited, and mentored responsible, like-minded community members to step in when the next person leaves office.

Most also know it’s not likely to happen.

Sometimes individuals on the board privately approach a local business leader or respected community member to encourage a run for office. Sometimes board members talk among themselves about prodding someone to throw their hat into the election ring.

But not enough do that, say school board veterans and state association staff. And structured efforts to “grow” the next generation of board members are rare indeed. Far more often, boards leave matters to chance, hoping against hope that good candidates will rise up with an understanding of where the current members have taken the district in recent years and with a commitment to carry on that work.

“School board members don’t think sufficiently enough about the succession issue,” agrees Don McAdams, a former school board member and chair of the Center for Reform of School Systems, a Houston-based nonprofit training and consulting group for school leaders. “Even some who do are very reluctant to get involved with it.”

That reluctance makes little sense. Many have heard tales in which newly elected board members had little understanding of past decisions -- and destroyed years of work by taking the district in a new direction. Most have heard of new members with a single agenda on their minds and a willingness to disrupt the board’s cohesion to get their way.

Which begs the question: After investing years of effort to move the district forward, why do school board members leave their legacies to chance? Why does their strategic vision not encompass a plan to ensure good people serve on the school board in years ahead and build upon the hard work already done?

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