The Last Word May 2013

By C. Ed Massey

Last April, I became NSBA President for the 2012-13 term. In this short period, it seems our world has changed. Who would have thought that one year ago we would have experienced the change of the NSBA executive director, a reorganization that we are calling the “New NSBA,” sequestration and a fiscal cliff, and the elementary school shooting at Newtown, Conn.?

While these are obvious and readily apparent changes, we also have experienced many personal changes, perhaps the birth of a child, the death of a family member, illness, marriage, divorce, and other events. With all of this change, my theme for the year, “Adaptive Leadership -- Moving Education Forward,” has seemed very fitting.

Many have heard this famous quote by President John F. Kennedy: “Change is the law of life and those who look to the past are certain to miss the future.” Such is change. Notwithstanding the changes in the past year, school boards all across our great nation have continued to educate America's children. Perseverance and commitment have been words that describe NSBA and its members, the state school boards associations. In a world where we often are told that school board work is thankless and public education is failing, NSBA and our state associations have continued to support local board governance and community control. We know that public education is not failing, and the work is not thankless. In fact, my time as a school board member has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Our work is not an expense to America, but an investment in America. Public education is not failing, but many of America's leaders have failed public education. As school board members, we work tirelessly to provide opportunities for our children. We do so under the conditions of unfunded mandates, sequestration, fiscal cliffs, safety concerns, health concerns, academic concerns, testing requirements, competitive grants, NCLB waivers, Common Core requirements, and global comparisons.

Despite all of these challenges, we, America's school board members, educate all children. Students are fed before, during, and after school. Health and home concerns are addressed. Safety is constantly a concern. Teachers continue their missions despite increasing class sizes and shrinking dollars. Discipline issues are addressed. Athletics are promoted. All of these issues are addressed in addition to the requirements of the state and federal governments. This is not a failing system. It’s a compassionate system that meets children’s needs beyond academics -- physical, social, and mental.

Given the educational requirements of today, I would argue that teaching is the noblest profession in which you can engage.

Adaptive change is not easy. Those who engage in adaptive change may face attacks by those who fear loss. The loss feared is manifested in things such as loss of power, control, popularity, or prominence. The fact is: Change is hard.

However, if we are going to educate our children in our changing world, we must engage in adaptive leadership. Students today learn differently than we did. They are preparing for jobs that may not even exist yet. College is no longer the exception, but the norm. Education does not end at graduation, but continues throughout our lives.

As your president, I was committed to leaving NSBA a little better than I found it. As I said in my interview, NSBA existed before I did, and hopefully it will exist long after I am gone. My commitment was to give my very best on behalf of children as I passed through. I hope I have done that. Stay the course, continue the fight, adapt to change, and always remember that school board service is not about us -- it is about those children we serve. May God bless each and every one of you. 

C. Ed Massey ( is the 2012-13 president of NSBA and a member of Kentucky’s Boone County Board of Education.