Is School Board Unity Possible?

By David Moscinski

Is there strength in unity among school board members? Is unity important? Is it even possible? Can’t there be honest differences of opinion?

Of course board members can differ in their beliefs and opinions. That is only natural. However, the key to board unity is that, once members have aired their differences, they are able to defer to others rather than defend their point of view to the death. One of my colleagues had a board member become so enraged during a meeting that he suffered a heart attack, put his head on the table, and died.

Of course, we all can think of less extreme examples, but there’s no doubt that anger and other emotions can surface at board meetings. Emotion is fine as long as cooler heads prevail in governing the district.

As someone who looks at this from the administrative side as a superintendent, unity on the school board is important because of what I call the “top down, trickle down” effect. Board unity sets the tone for the district that can radiate throughout the school system. The media love nothing better than to report a split decision on a crucial vote, with both sides insisting they are correct. (“Mr. Smith, what do you think of the members who supported closing the John Foster Dulles School?”)

Most importantly, however, board unity is significant because of the positive impact it can have on student learning. The results of research conducted by the Iowa Association of School Boards and NSBA’s Center for Public Education have shown that school boards that consistently express the belief that all students can learn see higher student achievement.

What is the key to unity on the school board? What is the magical component that promotes unity? The answer is not what, but rather who. That who is you.

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