What motivates anyone to run for the local school board?

After the meeting while driving home Jessie turned her car around and went directly to the office of the school district clerk. She asked for and was given a petition which when properly completed allowed her to run for the school board in the upcoming May election. Jessie was elected with 356 votes the same year Todd Morgan was elected. PTA parents who had known her for years during her PTA leadership were her biggest supporters.Jessie spent much of her first year on the school board, Ted’s eighth grade year in school, asking for information and finding out how things worked. It didn’t take her long to figure out Todd Morgan, also newly elected, hated the superintendent and wanted a new football coach. She also discovered Superintendent Galvin was not quite as smart as she thought, and he seldom brought real data to the school board regarding Rosemont’s academic performance. At a school board member training session in July Jessie received an explanation of her role as a school board member.Jessie found out that school board members do not make school district personnel decisions other than the single decision of who is superintendent. School boards role should be limited to the following:

• Review data about the school district and set performance and procedural goals and policies for the school district.

• Monitor and evaluate the performance of the superintendent in achieving the goals and following the policies and procedures.

• Monitor data and ongoing work in the school district to ensure the goals are being achieved and policies are being followed. They may request data from the superintendent in areas identified as worthy of examination for potential future goals and policies.

In August, during a public school board meeting, Jessie requested a formal evaluation of the academic success of the new honors math program being initiated in September of the year she was elected to the school board (her son’s eighth grade year in the Rosemont system). Jessie and the school board agreed the report should be completed by March of the following year so any necessary changes could be implemented the year Ted entered ninth grade.

When March 1 came Jessie asked when they could expect the report she requested the previous August. Superintendent Galvin in the midst of a contentious budget discussion that had to be resolved within two weeks responded with an offhand comment: “We’ll get to that at the next meeting.”

Superintendent Galvin acted as though he didn’t even remember this request and was eager to move forward on the other agenda items. Jessie saw Principal Fortunato raise her hand to get the superintendent’s attention after Jessie asked about the honors report during the meeting, but Superintendent Galvin shook his head and they moved forward with the agenda.

When these same stalling tactics played out at the next school board meeting in late March, Jessie called Principal Fortunato and asked for a report on the new honors program directly even though she knew, as a result of school board member training, such requests should go through the superintendent.

Meanwhile, Lois Schafer, who long enjoyed her AP and honors classes with a few select self-motivated students, told Jessie the new honors program was a disaster with teachers openly ignoring the principal’s request they provide honors challenges to all students in all classes.

Debbie Fortunato obviously felt trapped between her boss the superintendent who didn’t want her to say anything about the honors math program and a new school board member she did not want to anger. Debbie told Jessie she would relay Jessie’s request for this report to the superintendent later that same day when they were scheduled to attend a meeting together.

Jessie was fuming. She’d done everything right. She’d tried to talk to these people and they wouldn’t even show her enough respect to give her an answer to a very reasonable question, “How well was the new honors math program working?”

Jessie called Lois who gave her some new information she received from the teachers’ union president. Debbie Fortunato was due to receive tenure in October, but if she was not going to get it the school board had to tell her by July 15.

Tom Galvin’s three-year contract ran out the same month, and he required the same 90-day notice if his contract was not going to be renewed. The wheels in Jessie’s head started turning. She immediately drove to the home of her longtime friend and PTA colleague Helen Pinkus and proposed Helen run for the school board that May. Helen’s petition was properly submitted in April, and with Jessie’s support Helen was elected to the school board in May with 304 votes along with Todd Morgan’s Pop Warner buddy Terry Marcus.

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