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What it’s like to be a school district trustee

by Cheri Johnson

There are seven trustees on the Douglas County Board of Trustees. We reside in designated districts and are elected at-large. I was first elected in 1994 and re-elected in 1998. It is my intent through this column to define the role of a trustee, in my opinion. I must tell you up front that I am passionate about public education and especially the Douglas County School District. I am proud of our district. Our strategic plan is child- and family-centered and good for kids. Douglas County has wonderful, hard-working, professional teachers. And, most importantly, students in Douglas County have the entire community behind them. This community wants students to be successful and we, as a board, diligently work to achieve this goal.

– The role of a trustee. Trustees make policy. We should not micromanage. Day-to-day operation of this district is in the hands of our very capable administrative staff. It is important to keep in mind that trustees, by law, are not educators. We are lay people with kids of our own who want the best for every student in Douglas County School District. We attend meetings once a month. We visit schools as often as possible. We sit on committees such as the Truancy Board, Parks and Recreation, District Accountability Committee, Occupational Education and many, many more.

Our strategic plan makes our job a little easier than other districts in the state. We have a clear direction and meet every year in January for two days to update and revise the plan. This district is about competency-based education and this board is committed to seeing it implemented. It has been easy to get a little “wrapped around the axle” lately with the turmoil caused by negotiations, but the goal of this board and district has not wavered. This community wants students competent in the basic skill areas who are prepared to be responsible, productive citizens and we, as a board, are determined to provide the tools, through effective leadership, for all students to reach that goal.

– The role of the superintendent. The superintendent is the only employee the board has direct managerial responsibility over. The job of the superintendent is complicated and all encompassing. We have a superintendent more than capable of achieving the goals this board has set for the district. Access to Dr. Pendery Clark is her finest attribute. She keeps in contact with the board and we with her. All concerns go through her. On a daily basis, she hears from at least one of us, and many times, she addresses our concerns, clears misinformation and handles problems that arise. We, the board, are the community. We, the board, are the eyes and ears of the administration. Once again, we make policy; we do not implement it or micromanage the administration. When problems come to our attention, it is the duty of a trustee to pass it on to the person who has direct responsibility over 900 employees of the district, the superintendent.

– Do you want to be a board member? Have you considered running for the board? It is the most challenging, rewarding thing I have ever done. This is not to say it is easy. The recent turmoil brought about by negotiations, or lack of negotiations, has created a destructive atmosphere of divisiveness. Caustic, negative letters personally attacking board members do nothing to better the education of the students of Douglas county. And, it is not the intent of any trustee of this district to further the war of words by answering those attacks. It is not what we are about.

If you are considering a run for the board, and there are five seats up in this election, I ask you to keep a few things in mind. Personal agendas against a particular person, policy or entity are no reason to get involved. You, as an individual trustee, have no power. You are only as strong as the majority of the board. However, by all means, throw your hat in if you want to make a difference. We all bring strengths to the decision-making process at our meetings. Not everyone can be good or knowledgeable in every genre. We, as the board, respect the knowledge base that certain board members bring on certain issues. Passions and personal concerns of sitting trustees are obvious and never treated lightly or with disrespect. It is important not to get bogged-down in the minutia of the moment. Trustees have a responsibility to keep our eyes on the big picture. Daily problems will continue to come and go. There will be a resolution to negotiations, one way or another. Schools will always need the help of parents, business and community. But, trustees should always be about kids and bettering education for all students. We, as trustees, must always keep focused on “What” we are about and let the professionals in our district take care of the “How” we get there.

Interested in making a difference? Volunteer at your child’s school, sign up to be a mentor, consider tutoring. How about providing an internship at your business? Or, consider a run for the board.

– Cheri Johnson is a Douglas County School District Trustee.