By March Twisdale
We need people who know the job. If I were running for the school board, this would be my first and primary focus. What is my role? My duty? My obligation? Who do I serve?
We need people who can hold power responsibly and gently. Power is scary, because coming along right behind it is responsibility. Many people like the idea of power, but they’re quick to abdicate when things get tough. Dodging responsibility is the one thing you can never do, as a school board member. “Our lawyers told us to do it,” won’t fly, because those lawyers will quickly point out, “We advise, but you decide.”
We need people who can hold firm to their decisions, even if the superintendent disagrees. You provide your new housecleaner with vinegar and baking soda. He says, “I only use bleach.” Now, you have a problem. Bleach is bad for your septic system, and no matter what reasoning the housecleaner gives, if your septic system fails, you’re the one paying $60,000 to replace it. As the homeowner, you must hold firm to your decision, even if it means hiring a new housecleaner.
We need people who seek to serve. The school board does not “own” our school district. They are temporary managers, serving our community. Imagine you’re managing your brother’s property. The landscaping team wants to spray Round Up on all the dandelions, and they’ve got lots of reasons for doing so. But your brother’s greatest love is his apiary! Your job is to say, “No, you cannot do that.” Even if you hate dandelions. Because your job is to serve your brother’s interests, not your own.
We need people who listen and learn from those they serve. If I were running for the school board, I would be exploring other school board websites and calling previous board members to ask, “What outreach methods work best?”
We need people who respect and advocate firmly for our community’s values. Vashon Island is a heavily artistic, musical, and theater-oriented community. If I were on the school board today, I would work with my fellow board members to direct the superintendent, by saying, “On Vashon Island, art, music and theater are an integral part of our community. These programs will continue to be supported in our schools. Make it so.”
We need a school board that prioritizes Island students first. Our school district, and previous school boards, have set us up to be economically dependent upon a student base that expands beyond our own watery shores. But our community values come first. It is our school district, meant to serve our children, and largely funded by our taxes. Pursuing an educational plan that aligns with our values empowers off-Island families to make an informed choice.
We need a school board that understands the Open Public Meetings Act, and members who cherish and actively pursue transparency. Silence is not neutral. Keeping our community in the dark is a decision that must be justified.
We need better meetings. We need school board members who engage directly with individuals making public comments at meetings. A single “umbrella comment,” directed at an entire audience (after a dozen or so people have spoken), is inherently disrespectful and thoroughly ineffective – no matter how well-intended. This is a new change in meeting behavior that needs to be reversed. Vashon Island needs school board members who excel at active listening, clarifying questions, authentic responses, and building rapport with community members. We are your equals, and we are your allies.
We need a clear separation of powers. School board meetings should reflect the divide between our elected officials (who answer to us), and the employee hired as superintendent. Blurred lines between these two roles is inappropriate. During board meetings, our school board should sit together, in the center of the room, and our employee (the superintendent) should sit apart. This physical set up makes it clear who is responsible to who and who supervises who.
What do we want from our Island schools? What do our children need to learn? We can’t have it all, so what do we care about most? What makes our Vashon Island community unique, and how can our schools build upon those strengths? If our children are to have the best school experience ever, what will make it great? These are some of the questions I would be asking myself and other islanders, if I were running for the school board.