The Importance of School Board Training

By Naomi Dillon

Sandra Barry was already a familiar face in Maryland’s Caroline County Public Schools when she was appointed to the board. Being an active PTA volunteer and participating in district meetings was a large part of it, though in her rural area, it’s simply unavoidable: Everybody knows everybody and everybody knows a school board member.

That familiarity with key community members and with key education issues lent Barry a certain amount of ease when she took office. But that feeling didn’t last long.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred less than a week after Barry started serving, then the No Child Left Behind Act became law four months later. But for Barry, the rudest awakening was from friends and neighbors who came out in droves to protest two proposals before the board -- a middle school restructuring and the designation of an art class as Advanced Placement.

“People lined up at public comment, people I even knew, to tell us what morons we were and how we needed to be thrown out of office,” says Barry, who now is president of her board. “I was stunned, which sounds horribly naíve, but the intensity surprised me. The fact is that you can present people with the facts, but if they have an emotional attachment, they can’t see the big picture. They can’t see beyond their child.”

As Barry learned, being a school board member isn’t easy, not then and especially not now, underscoring the importance of ongoing training and professional development. Lisa Bartusek, NSBA’s associate executive director of state association services, says a big part of what board members bring to the table is common sense and an understanding of the community’s values, but boardsmanship has a very technical element to it.

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