Julia’s Attributes of an Effective School Board Member

As the most experienced trustee board member (11 years), I never stop learning the technical details of the job, and I learned early on that being effective requires more than knowing the details of the tenure law or how to interpret the budget. What makes me a successful board member is my genuine commitment to striving for high-quality public education that supports the full development of all children.

Here are certain skills and attributes that I strive towards:

I always prepare to participate responsibly. I do my homework, come prepared to work, I remember that sometimes the work is to listen, agree and disagree as my values dictate, and accept that the group decision is legitimate even if it’s not my personal choice. It’s not acceptable to have opinions and not express them.

I focus on serving all children. I ensure every deliberation, decision and action reflects the best interests of every student I serve. No child is more important than another.

I remember that my identity is with the community, not the staff.  Although it may be easy to identify with staff as we have more discussions with them about issues. But I always remember that my job is to serve in trust for the community.

I represent the community, not a single constituency. I understand and identify with Kelowna constituency (parents, neighborhoods or communities, special ed, etc.), but I always remember that being a board member means serving in trust for the entire community from Lake Country to Peachland. There’s no way seven people can provide a spokesperson for every group or legitimate interest, so in a moral sense I stand for them all.

I am responsible for group behavior and productivity. I am responsible for not only myself but the group of trustees. If the group doesn’t do its job, meddles in administration or breaks its own rules, I personally share that responsibility, just as I share in our successes.

I honor divergent opinions without being intimidated by them. I am obligated to express my honest opinions on issues, and so are each of the other board members. I encourage my colleagues to speak their opinions and listen to them carefully and respectfully. But I don’t allow myself to be intimidated by louder or more insistent board members.

I use my experience to inform my colleagues’ wisdom. I have eleven years of experience having chaired: Finance and Audit; Planning and Facilities; Education and Student Services; and, Policy Committees and with my gained knowledge of issues arising regarding capital planning, budget recommendations, etc., I pass on my knowledge to help inform my fellow trustees (i.e., help them understand what fiscal health looks like versus fiscal jeopardy) but I don’t assume sole responsibility for those decisions. My job as a board member is to govern.

I think upward and outward more than downward and inward. I learned early on, ten years ago, there is a great temptation to focus on what goes on with management and staff instead of what difference the district should make in the larger world. This required ignoring the minutia or details in order to examine, question and define the big picture. The latter is a daunting and awesome task, but it’s board work—governance! A popular adage I learned is: “Leadership is not driving the train, it’s laying the track”