Local boards of education in our state have a tremendous responsibility. They are critical to improving the lives of students, and in turn the prosperity of our Commonwealth. The decisions they make impact thousands and in some cases, hundreds of thousands of lives – from those of students, to teachers and administrators, parents, and the community at large.
School board races are nonpartisan. They are not about being a Democrat or Republican or an Independent. They are about our children and ensuring they are on the best course for their future. In recent years, however, there have been a few instances where personal agendas have proved a distraction for some board members. But overwhelmingly, Kentucky’s local school board members have risen to the challenge again and again and shown they have the focus, commitment and courage to stand up and do the right things for our children.
Today Kentucky is at a crossroads in terms of school reform and preparing our students to succeed in postsecondary education and the workforce. Our past gains are laudable, but we have too many students who have not reaped the benefits of those gains and who face an uncertain future after they leave high school. The passage of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) offers us an unprecedented opportunity to take charge of our education system and make improvements to it that will allow our children and our Commonwealth to leap forward and seize ever greater opportunities.
Local school board members – who stand between the policies at the state level and implementation at the school level – will be an integral partner in this work. It is with this in mind, I appeal to Kentucky voters to carefully consider their choices for local school boards in the upcoming election. Who you elect to your local school board is critical to your children and your communities, and I ask that you fully examine the qualifications, ideas and commitment of each school board candidate as you head to the polls to cast your vote.
Kentucky Revised Statute (KRS)160.180 defines the eligibility requirements a candidate must meet to seek election to a local school board. A person must be: 24 years old; a Kentucky citizen for at least three years prior to the election; a voter in the district in which he or she is elected; and have completed at least the 12th grade or have a GED certificate or received a high school diploma through participation in an accredited external diploma program.
The law, however, lays out only the most basic requirements. We know from research across the country that the most effective boards have members who possess leadership, character and skills that enable them to ensure their schools and students are successful. The best boards work well together, with their district offices, and focus on policy.
The ability to work with others is critical. That does not mean school board members always have to agree with each other. What it does mean is they work hard – together – to consider every possibility and develop policy that will result in a better educational experience for students. It also means they need to be accessible and responsive to community members. They have to listen to the concerns of the community, their superintendent, their parents and their community at large. They then have to consider those concerns and determine the best course of action for students given the resources at their disposal.
Serving on a school board also takes courage. Courage to ask questions, to make decisions, to put kids before adult concerns and convenience, and to navigate districts and schools through changes and challenges. It is not always easy. But Kentucky school board members have shown they possesses this fortitude and willingness to embrace change, and our children and state need them to do the same as we face this next step on our path of continuous improvement.
Lastly, it is crucial that whoever you select for your school board has a focus on children and acting in those children’s best interest. There can be no compromise on this. We must stand for our children and their future and not allow our focus or sympathies to be pulled in other directions. Our children and our Commonwealth depend on it.