Superintendent's Notebook: School Board members deserve appreciation

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Did you know that school boards are so vital to our public education system that their history predates our nation’s founding?

January is School Board Recognition Month, so it’s a great time to recognize school boards in general – and the Portland Board of Public Education in particular. I want to thank these dedicated citizens for all the time and effort they devote in support of teaching and learning in the Portland Public Schools.

According to the National School Boards Association, school board history dates back to the 1600s – Colonial times. “Local democratic control of public education was a strongly rooted tradition in our country long before it became an independent nation,” the NSBA says.

Why are school boards so important?

“School boards … represent the community’s beliefs and values. Who better than these community representatives to shoulder the responsibility for preparing children to live productive and satisfying lives?” the NSBA says.

A school board’s myriad duties are summed up in a proposed joint legislative resolution declaring January 2016 as School Board Member Recognition Month in Maine. State Sen. Rebecca Millett, who represents South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and part of Scarborough, is expected to introduce a resolution expressing lawmakers’ appreciation of Maine school boards and urging local communities to recognize their dedicated board members.

Among the work school boards do is articulating a vision for their school systems, setting high academic standards and hiring staff, the resolution states. Their work also includes setting policies and procedures and adopting budgets. And they work closely with administrators, teachers, parents and the community to do all that.

Yet, as the resolution notes, they’re volunteer community members “who put in countless hours in meetings and in their communities advocating for their schools.”

Connie Brown, the executive director of the Maine School Boards Association, describes school board members as “often the unsung heroes in their local areas.”

“It’s a challenging role,” she said.

It’s one to which Marnie Morrione, the new chairwoman of Portland’s School Board, has devoted more than seven years of her life. Her current term as the District 5 representative expires in 2017.

Why does she do it?

“Coming from a family of educators, I know what an important role our schools play in our individual and collective future,” said Morrione, whose family members are in academia. “Our schools must do the best job possible to prepare our children to lead successful lives of personal and social meaning.”

Morrione said the board’s job is to “represent the community.” She said board members must “ensure decisions are transparent and accountable with high standards. By overseeing the superintendent’s work, setting priorities and establishing policies, board members can give a district direction for academic achievement. Also, board members serve as watchdogs to make sure tax dollars are being well spent and used for the best education for all students.”

Portland has nine elected school board members: Marnie Morrione, Sarah Thompson, Pious Ali, John Eder, Anna Trevorrow, Jenna Vendil, Holly Seeliger, Laurie Davis, and Stephanie Hatzenbuehler. The board also has four student representatives chosen by their peers at each of Portland’s high schools: Portland High School’s Ludiya Abdalla, Deering High School’s Blaize Vail, Casco Bay High School’s Matthew Suslovic, and Kevin Segal, who represents the Portland Arts and Technology High School.

Morrione said the students are an integral part of the board.

“Our work revolves around students and without their voices, we would not be very successful,” she said. “Not only do board student representatives have an opportunity at each meeting to share information about their high schools, but also they vote and can comment on an item during the meetings and workshops. Board members listen closely to the student representatives and value their input greatly.”

CBHS junior Suslovic said the schools “are ground zero when it comes to the impact of the decisions our school board makes. And so it is my peers’ and my responsibility to bring our unique perspective as students and members of the next generation to the table.”

Portland is very fortunate to have such thoughtful and dedicated community members guiding our schools. Thank you, School board members, for all you do.

Jeanne Crocker is interim superintendent of the Portland Public Schools. She can be reached at superintendent@portlandschools.org.

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