When he announced that he would not run again for election as a school district trustee, Scott Phelps referred to the “moderate center” and that intrigued me. What is the moderate center, anyway?
By Jennifer Hall Lee
For me, this is where we come together (with our differences) to find common ground in order to build a better future for all of us. Common ground, the center, is flexible and it is essential on school boards. The alternative is intractability.
In his recent statement about his decision not to run for reelection Phelps brought up many good points about the future of the school board. I’d like to focus on two:
- A stable public school district is essential for children’s education.
- Political ideology to advance political goals does not belong on a school board.
Board and Superintendent relationship
I like to recognize systems that are working as stable. Stability is not calcification. In fact, it’s a necessary element for the education of children. Mr. Phelps’ reference to reversing the trend of short-term superintendent tenures as a positive accomplishment is correct.
According to the California School Boards Association “While the superintendent is not an elected member of the board, as a professional educator hired by the board, s/he plays a unique and critical role in setting the direction for the district. When that leadership changes, it can have a destabilizing effect on the school system.”
Retaining a good superintendent is essential for any changes or reforms the Board wants to achieve.
Nationally, the current anti-democratic forces making inroads to destabilize us are challenging and unnerving. Public schools occupy a foundational place in our democracy. As some might criticize our public schools and say that education can be handled more efficiently in the private sector, the role of the board and superintendent as a working team is crucial in the maintenance of a free public school system.
In our Code of Ethics: “A Governing Board Member should honor the high responsibility which Board members demand, by: Thinking always in terms of “Children First.”
School board members, once elected, are on a team of people with varying institutional knowledge, and finding common ground among us makes us effective. This is not an easy task; the trustees are elected and do not necessarily have to be public school educators, in fact the differences between us can be substantial.
Knowing that the superintendent and the senior staff are experienced at managing districts is a key fact that a trustee must keep in mind if good relationships are to be maintained.
Phelps’ points about the school board are a result of seventeen years of institutional knowledge as a trustee and that has been a wellspring for me. I will miss him.
There will be challenges ahead, but we can’t go wrong if we put children first in every decision we make.
Jennifer Hall Lee is a PUSD Trustee and is writing as an individual.
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