Third Generation School Board Member Seeks Evidence

I have been “around” school board work since I was 1-year-old, when my dad joined the local school board in my hometown. More than 30 years later, my dad is still on the local school board – never once taking a break.

As I moved through the public K-12 school in my hometown, I remember my dad coming home late at night on Mondays. I remember election day, being nervous that my dad may lose the election and he would be sad (luckily, I never had to console him😊). I remember sitting in the back of the school library after basketball practice, waiting for my dad to get out of his meeting so I could hitch a ride home with him. I remember the superintendent ringing our doorbell, and how awkward it was to invite my school superintendent to come in. The superintendent and my dad would sit at the kitchen countertop, open the manilla envelope, and review paper (yes, real paper) agendas and the draft board packet for the next meeting. As a kid, this all was of zero interest to me – in fact, it often annoyed me. I was never enamored with the title of “school board president’s daughter.”

Today, 32 years later, my dad remains on my hometown’s local school board; and, now, school policy conversations with him are some of my favorite moments in my life – particularly because I, now, am too a local school board member. I never had targeted intentions to be a local school board member; but, maybe it was inevitable; maybe it’s in my DNA—my maternal grandfather was also a local school board member.

There is a saying about “leaning in” that I love, which goes “What we resist, persists.” For much of my life, I resisted education governance, simply because I was a kid who definitely did not want to do what my parents did. However, through my personal experiences and my education at the University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy, I grew to understand the powerful role that school boards can have in shaping students’ opportunities later in life. I remember calling my dad my freshman year of college and asking him why my high school let me take two semesters of agriculture class in lieu of biology class—without biology class in high school, I basically could not take any intro science class at UofM (I now understand the thought process the board had – wanting to allow students an opportunity to prepare for successful work in the local agriculture-heavy economy). So, I resisted – perhaps resented – school boards for a long time; however, I do believe that because of that resistance, thoughts of how school governance could be improved have always persisted in the back of my mind.

Along the winding road to becoming a faculty member who teaches and researches education policy and politics, I fell in love with understanding how those in power make their decisions, and whose voices are at local and state education policymaking tables. It is precisely this interest in uncovering voice and power in K12 education governance that brought me to the ESBI. This project allows for an opportunity to dig into the work of school board members—who is at the table and what they talk about. I hope that this work will help practitioners, researchers, and policymakers better understand how school boards currently operate, and serve as a launching point for how to ensure that diverse voices are both descriptively and substantively heard in local school governance decisions in order to ensure an inclusive, equitable, and socially just educational experience for each and every child.