To most faculty, students and staff working in a school district, their school board is an unknown. They hear about the school board and its members as part of discussions about school funding, budgets and biennial elections, but exactly who these people are remains a mystery.
Those individuals who serve on a school board do not normally figure into the everyday function of a school’s activities or sports. And yet, they often are the deciding factor in whether funding is made available, positions are retained and student opportunities are reduced, sustained or enhanced.
School boards deal with the “big picture” aspect of a school district, making the hard decisions about how the limited funds available are distributed. It is very likely that a specific activity or sport is little more than a line item in a huge budget to them. Adding a human face and a personal touch to your line item can mean the difference between being cut and being fully supported, being reduced or having adequate funds to provide the best possible opportunity for each and every student. Making that personal connection does take time, but the rewards make it well worth the effort required.
One approach would be three-fold: meet them on their turf, invite them to your turf and connect with them on neutral turf.
Starting with their turf, athletic/activity directors could attend a school board meeting at the beginning of the year. During the public comment section, introduce yourself, speak briefly about your activities/sports and thank them for their ongoing support. Put a face (and a smile) on your effort with students. You can attend other meetings (and not necessarily speak) and they will notice that you are there. You can also have supportive parents (booster club president) do the same thing at other school board meetings.
The first invitation to your turf should be for a significant event (concert, performance, match, etc.). While email is the quick and easy way for adults to communicate these days, a letter works just as well and makes an impressive first statement. Send your invitation to each school board member well in advance of your event (offer complimentary tickets if appropriate) and note how the students would value their personal support. Briefly highlight the event and let them know that you will have someone meet them there. Then, recruit a parent to meet and greet them.
Once you have established this connection, you can continue sending these invitations, but having a student do so would be more powerful. If your activity or sport has a student leadership group, ask each student member to select one school board member to “mentor,” providing them with their email address, mailing address and phone number (and a photo if possible). Ask the student to reach out to their school board member to personally invite them to your events, or even to practices or rehearsals (especially ones that are just prior to events). Having a student invite a school board member to a play dress rehearsal delivers a strong message that the activity matters to the students.
Once the students have a relationship with the school board members, be sure to stay in contact. Athletic/activity directors need to initiate those interactions as school board members have hundreds of folks to remember.
At the end of the school year, your students can put together a packet of programs, newspaper clippings, etc. about your activity or sport, and deliver it (personally is always better) to each school board member with a cover letter thanking them for their support throughout the year. Have that letter crafted (with your editing) by each of your student leaders, again connecting to their school board member, and have it signed by all of your participating students.
By connecting with school board members personally, you can provide the insight they need to make those tough “big picture” decisions that affect everyone in a school, especially your students.
Steffen Parker, a member of the High School Today Publications Committee, is a music educator, computer geek and instructional support specialist from Vermont, where he organizes music festivals and supports other states with online services for their events.