School boards are looking to add diversity to reflect students

Schools rely on a dedicated army of volunteers every day to keep classrooms, committees, after school sports, clubs and transportation running smoothly. Many of these are parents or community members who share their time and experience to enrich the education of young people. What may surprise you is that the community members who often give more hours than any others in a school district are its school board members.

On average, school directors give 15 or more hours to their schools each month. Many devote more than 25. And, as our surveys have shown, they are very clear about why they do so. They want to help children get a good education and also give back to their communities.

School directors are unique in our society. They are elected public officials on par with our legislators, but most are unpaid for their invaluable service. They are elected locally by their communities. School directors set school policy, hire and supervise the superintendent, and approve and oversee district budgets. They set the goals that underpin their districts’ strategic direction.

Like elected officials at the state and federal levels, school directors must find a fair balance between competing interests in a world of limited time and funding. As our schools grow more ethnically diverse, it becomes increasingly important that school boards mirror that diversity. School boards with a diversity of backgrounds, experiences and ethnicities benefit from multiple perspectives. This is valuable when considering important educational and policy issues.

It is often a challenge to increase the diversity in the pipeline of applicants for teaching and administrative positions. We have to be creative. We also need to seek diversity in encouraging people to run for their school boards.

The Washington State School Directors’ Association is gathering data on the ethnicity of the state’s school directors. The association also is offering two-hour workshops throughout the state in March and April to encourage citizens to learn about and consider school board service.

In Thurston County, a workshop is set for March 25 at the Olympia School District board room. This session is free and, like others across the state, will run from 6:30-8:30 pm. Workshops are also scheduled in Sequim, Seattle, Tacoma, Kelso, Marysville, Mount Vernon, Yakima and other locations.

Filing and running for an elected office can be intimidating. We hope to help reduce the fear and barriers that keep some from seeking election. This will contribute to a diversity that better reflects the state’s student population.

While we all benefit from diverse experiences and perspectives, it is our state’s 1 million students whose futures depend upon it.