April 2014 Leaderboard

From the Editor
Kathleen Vail

Has anyone thanked you lately?

We know you’re not in it for the accolades, but being a school board member can sometimes be a thankless job. When something is wrong in your district, you’ll get more than your fair share of criticism. When all is going smoothly, you’ll seldom hear praise.

For this and many other reasons, I look forward each year to the Magna Awards. The awards program has been my project since I started working for the magazine nearly 20 years ago. The program has gone through some changes in the past two decades. However, at its core, it recognizes the hard work of school board leadership and governance. It honors how that work is reflected through excellent programs that help schools, teachers, students, parents, and the community.

The awards, sponsored by Sodexo, spotlight the hard work of board members like you. You can read about the 2014 winners in this issue -- perhaps they’ve come up with a solution to a problem you are facing.

If you’re in New Orleans for NSBA’s Annual Conference in April, you can congratulate the Magna Award-winning districts and their board members at the School Leaders luncheon on Saturday, April 5. For those of you reading this at Annual Conference, make sure you download the conference app and keep up with the news by reading Conference Daily.

And from all of us at ASBJ, a heartfelt thank you for all you do.

 -- Kathleen Vail, Editor-in-Chief, kvail@nsba.org

Have a board training scheduled or want some in-depth information on a school governance topic?

ASBJ’s topical anthologies can provide the deep dive you’re looking for. Go to www.asbj.com/TopicsArchive/ASBJ-Anthologies to browse subjects. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Ask us at editor@asbj.com.

Get ASBJ on your tablet! Check out the digital edition of the magazine on ASBJ.com. When you download it to your tablet or e-reader, you can easily check out Internet links and resources. You also can view our new video features, including the Magna Awards video.

Feedback: What do you think of our new look? Let us know by sending an email to editor@asbaj.com.

 Tom On Point
Thomas J. Gentzel

Standing up for public schools

A few years back, if you said the word “branding” aloud, you might have been met with a blank stare. Not anymore. In our homes and offices, on TV, radio, and the Internet, we’re inundated by thousands of advertisements every day, each trying to make a point, argue a position, counter an opponent, or, of course, sell us a product.

For many reasons, we haven’t thought of public education as a “brand,” but now we must -- and that’s actually a positive change. With so many interests competing for attention and public funding for alternative school options, we need to advocate for America’s outstanding public education system.

NSBA and our state associations believe passionately in public education -- as do many others, based on the overwhelming early response we have received to “Stand up 4 Public Schools,” our exciting new national campaign. Already -- while still in “soft launch” mode, with little to no marketing -- about 600 unique visitors per day are clicking on www.standup4publicschools.org, the campaign microsite, largely through word-of-mouth communication. Look for an even bigger response after April 5, Day One of NSBA’s 74th Annual Conference, when we will host a joint national roll-out of the campaign in partnership with state associations.

The national campaign was announced at NSBA’s 2014 Advocacy Institute in Washington, D.C., and it could not come at a more critical time. As the successor to the Federal Relations Network conference, the Advocacy Institute expanded on the themes of public, legal, and legislative advocacy skills. By intensifying our focus on advocacy and harnessing the power of our collective voice, NSBA’s growing “Army of Advocates” will help us ensure that every child gains access to a world-class public education.

I say “critical” time, because just days before our meeting, an assortment of well-funded business and interest groups sponsored “National School Choice Week” in Washington, D.C., and other locations across the country. At NSBA, we believe in public school choice, and we support charter schools that are authorized and monitored by local school boards. But the underlying message of many of the groups promoting National School Choice Week is that public schools are failing and that the only way to help educate our neediest children is through expanding voucher programs and other initiatives that divert money from public schools.

The sponsors didn’t note the many studies that show vouchers and charter schools’ lackluster student performance -- performance that often is much lower than that of local public schools. They didn’t publicize the fact that 17 charter schools closed in Columbus, Ohio, in a single year because of poor academic performance, or that nearly half the students in a Louisiana voucher program praised by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and former D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee attend private schools with performance scores of “D” or “F”.

On an even more fundamental level, the National School Choice Week supporters mischaracterized the performance of public schools, which today are more successful than ever.

In January, shortly before President Obama’s State of the Union address, I was invited to the White House to exchange ideas for the speech. In addition to sharing our concerns about funding and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization, I pointed out to the administration’s senior advisors that more than 90 percent of children in the U.S. attend public schools, and I asked that President Obama show support for school boards and public education. Listening to the speech, I was heartened by the opening line:

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, my fellow Americans, today in America, a teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it and did her part to lift America’s graduation rate to its highest levels in more than three decades.

For the record, overall graduation rates have increased from 67 percent in 2000 to 75 percent in 2010, with the largest gains among African-American and Latino students. And student achievement has risen too, with scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress increasing among all subgroups of students between 1975 and 2012, but particularly among African Americans and Latinos, whose numbers have grown from 14 percent of test-takers in 1975 to 36 percent in 2012.

As school board members, you know better than anyone that our work is never done, whether that work is ensuring the best public education for every child -- or standing up for the remarkable institution that is making that happen.

NSBA has a clear goal to become the leading advocate for public education in America. Join us in standing up for our nation’s public schools.

Thomas J. Gentzel (tgentzel@nsba.org) is the executive director of NSBA.

President's Corner
David A. Pickler

The transformation of NSBA

in one year, nsba has been transformed.

We set aggressive, time-driven goals -- and the results are coming in. We’re on our way to becoming the leading advocate for public education in America.

A big part of our transformation has been building our grassroots network -- our “army of advocates” -- harnessing the power of this country’s 90,000 school board members, our like-minded colleagues, and our constituents to show that our public schools are better today than ever before -- and getting better.

We’re building an army of advocates in every state, establishing school board members as reform leaders and change agents, and we are changing the conversations about public education.

A great example: In Louisiana, which is ground zero for American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) initiatives and school vouchers, Louisiana School Boards Association Executive Director Scott Richard mobilized more than 83,000 school board members, teachers, administrators, school employees, and PTA members who believe in public education and are willing to stand up for the schoolchildren in their state.

Our army is more than 125,000 strong… it has grown over fortyfold since last year. Think of the power of our collective voice. If we continue, we can have one million advocates by NSBA’s Annual Conference in April.

Our mission is urgent. We need you, your colleagues, and your constituents to become year-round education advocates. We must get our message across to Congress and the media. We must establish public education as the education of choice.

And we must make sure that public schools have the funding, resources, and support to educate all students in this rapidly changing world economy. This is nothing less than a national security interest. It’s time for our army of advocates to move to the front lines.

It truly has been an honor to serve as your NSBA president this year. Over the past 12 months I’ve logged more than 175,000 frequent flyer miles, visited more than 40 states and four countries, and met thousands of school board members who make NSBA’s work and our mission possible. I look forward to expanding our army and fulfilling our goals.

Together we can. Together we must.

David Pickler (dpickler@nsba.org) is the 2013-14 president of NSBA and a member of Tennessee’s Shelby County School Board.