Vail Daily column: Great board makes for great schools
More than 200 years ago, the first school boards were established in Massachusetts as the importance and complexity of governing school organizations grew. Today, an overwhelming majority of school systems in the United States (as well as ours here in Eagle County) are governed by locally elected boards of education.
Key principles of democracy are built into how school boards are structured and operate. Typically (although there are lots of exceptions), boards are made up of individuals chosen to represent different geographic districts (sometimes called precincts or wards in some states). While board members are elected to represent their geographic area, the board only has power when a majority of its members vote together. This design is intentional as it creates a system where board members are attentive to the needs of the area they represent but have to collaborate and work together for the good of the whole community.
Most boards of education today function in a manner similar to that seen in corporations, using a model called policy governance — where board members focus on large-scale organization policy, strategic direction and macro-level finance. As with most corporate boards, the day-to-day operation of the organization is run by a professional. This person is most commonly called the superintendent, who is effectively the chief executive officer.
The relationship between great school systems and great boards is inseparable. The best school systems in the United States have stable boards made up of caring, savvy and involved individuals who work to keep the organization (and its CEO) focused on quality teaching and learning while being financially responsible.
By contrast, some board actions and politics can also be incredibly disruptive to a school system achieving greatness. Though the phenomena is not entirely new, we’ve seen recent examples in Colorado of ideologically tilted, or single-issue minded, slates of board candidates who take over a local school board and pitch the school system and the community into chaos.
Often, these approaches are justified by saying some form of disruptive change is needed to “shake up” the system in order to raise performance. More often, however, best performing school systems demonstrate a long-term and focused commitment to quality and forego the political fireworks.
Metaphorically, the race to quality is a marathon and not a sprint — and it requires a long-term view, dedication and unwavering commitment. Put another way, building a great school system does not require warriors who ferociously and fervently enter the battlefield — it requires caring and diligent gardeners who envision, shape and grow.
Our community is fortunate to have a talented Board of Education whose members are passionate about quality and committed to excellence. The members of the Eagle County Schools Board of Education are:
• Tessa Kirchner representing District A, which includes portions of Minturn, Eagle-Vail and Avon/Beaver Creek.
• Kate Cocchiarella representing District B, which includes Vail and portions of Minturn.
• Carrie Benway representing District C, which includes north Edwards, Wolcott and the ranching communities along the Colorado River. Ms. Benway is also the vice president of the board.
• Carrie Larson representing District E, which includes Gypsum and south outlying Gypsum areas.
• Patrick Hirn representing District F, which includes much of Avon and Wildridge.
• Shelley Jarnot representing District G, which includes south Edwards, Bellyache Ridge, portions of the Brush Creek area and Buckhorn.
District D, which includes most of Eagle, was previously represented by Jeanne McQueeney. In November, Ms. McQueeney won the election for a seat on the Eagle County Board of County Commissioners and resigned from the Board of Education in order to take on her newly elected position. The Board of Education seat for District D is currently vacant.
Per state law, the remaining members of the Board of Education must appoint someone living in District D (Eagle) to fill the remainder of Ms. McQueeney’s term, which goes through 2015. This appointed person may remain on the board if they run for and win an election for the seat in the fall of 2015.
Anyone living in District D (Eagle) who is interested in serving on the Board of Education can contact the board secretary, Missy Gerard, at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on how to apply. The seat will be appointed on Jan. 14.
There is no financial compensation for serving on the Board of Education (other than reimbursements for actual expenses). However, board members do receive one priceless reward — the ability to positively impact the futures of literally thousands of children in our community.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at email@example.com.