1 vote, 5 minutes, 157,000 Kids: The Importance of Your Participation in School Board Elections

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At Dallas Kids First, we argue that the most important elected official is the school board trustee. Yet, it is not a priority for the majority of Dallas voters. If this is a statement that you disagree with – it is likely because you are included in the 7% average voter who shows up for school board elections year after year. For the other 93%, elected school board leadership just isn’t on their radar.

What do school board trustees do?

First – School board trustees set and monitor goals alongside the district’s superintendent, ultimately giving them the power to evaluate school performance. That’s huge! The body of 9 leaders get to determine how to measure success for 157,000 students and how to structure discussion at meetings in a manner that always leads back to this north star.

Second – School board leaders in Dallas are entrusted with approving and managing a $1.8 billion budget. No, they are not handed a blank check and asked to allocate funds; but yes, trustees have presented plans and have the power to either give the go-ahead or block the expense.

Third – school board leaders set policy under which the district’s schools are managed, arguably the most complex of the three responsibilities. This means each elected leader can take the initiative to revise or propose an idea to better serve students. An example may paint this picture best: It took the leadership of a trustee to propose free breakfast across all schools in a district where most families are considered “economically disadvantaged.” This was a new policy idea that revolutionized a students’ academic experience since the focus was now on their studies instead of an empty stomach.

So what?

Judging by the magnitude of the responsibilities a school board possesses, it is critical that more people participate in the vetting of and voting of really great candidates. Understanding the role is half the battle. The other half is voting for leaders that are a good fit for the 3 major responsibilities a trustee fulfills.

The Dallas Kids First team has at least 847 hours of observing board discussion and listening to board votes. Since 2012, the DKF team has been to every meeting: the monthly Board Briefing lasts an average of 7 hours (probably on a good night) and the monthly ‘voting’ meeting lasts an average of 4 hours. This investment of time and additional research by DKF has led us to identify research-based qualities that candidates and voters can use when considering leadership for school board.

What qualities does Dallas Kids First recommend for school board leadership?

  1. Focus on student outcomes (“Kids First Mindset”) – As a Trustee, it can be overwhelming to vote on a variety of topics related to budget, facilities, course offerings, etc. DKF believes a school board trustee should ensure each decision ultimately addresses the question: How will this impact students and how can my vote best serve all kids across DISD?

  2. Education Knowledge – It is critical that a trustee fundamentally understand student challenges in Dallas ISD and have knowledge of successes from other districts, states, or countries to provide potential solutions locally.

  3. Leadership Experience – School board trustees need to have transferable, proven, and relevant organizational leadership skills that would add value to the board, especially as it relates to working with diverse populations.

  4. Understanding of Trustee Role – You just read how complex the role of a trustee can be. It is critical that a school board member has an understanding of the role with a clear anchor & focus on improving student outcomes.

  5. Urgency – A school board trustee must approach challenges with a sense of urgency, a sense of personal responsibility, and an action plan for improving students’ education journeys in Dallas ISD.

  6. Community Partnership – A school board member must partner with the community on problem-solving and policy-setting towards improving student outcomes across the District.

Now what?

We invite you to lean into school board elections, just as our team has year after year. Our team initially started off with 4 neighbors volunteering time during elections to elevate expectations for school board leadership and has since evolved to empower community involvement on a year-round basis. The founding of the CAMP Fellowship (Campaign Activity and Management Program) under director John Hill has invited cohorts of 25 community members who represent the concerns & ideas of residents across Dallas and whom are all united by one common thread – a belief in making the city a better place through the education of kids in this city.

The CAMP Fellows and growth of the DKF team have allowed us to address blind spots and evolve to pursue a positive impact. In the fellowship are teachers, Dallas ISD students, education non-profit staff, parents, and other leaders from a wide range of ages and experiences. The commitment to engage in the community with a minimum of 30 hours of community service and 100 hours of talking to voters has resulted in not just the success of outstanding school board leaders but acquired learning from the community and the CAMP Fellows on the importance of this leadership for kids, families, and neighborhoods.

Election day is Saturday, May 4th– we hope when you make your mayoral choice and city council choice, you also consider a vote for standout school board leaders who have the potential to transform the lives of kids for the better. They’re just waiting for your vote.