What’s it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give,…?
What is it all about, Alfie? Hardly anybody votes in school board elections. And, yet, they have become the new hot thing—at least here in li’l ole Delaware.
All of a sudden school board elections in Delaware have taken on a life of their own, and have somehow attracted the spending of unprecedented tens of thousands of dollars. YIKES.
I always knew that school board elections were important. Heck—I know that all public elections are important, and I have never missed an opportunity to participate in democratic process by voting. I was thrilled when I reached the age when I could vote.
I am a teacher. Obviously, I would (and should be) interested in school board elections. In reality, the school board is my boss. And, I have worked very hard in the past 6-7 years to identify and support candidates who I was confident were committed to school improvement, to the best interests of children and our schools, who had a broad and deep understanding of our schools, and who indicated that they were ready, willing, and able to do the following:
- Demand comprehensive information from the administration about the business of the schools and districts
- Complete all readings and listen carefully to all information shared
- Ask questions and require thorough responses
- Pay attention to the details about the day-to-day operations of the district
- Visit our schools—not just for the flash and dazzle events, but to see real classrooms at work
- Realize the role and responsibilities as a STEWARD of the district—for all of the children, all of the families, all of the employees, all of the schools, all of the communities in which our schools lie and those served by our schools
- Be prepared to LEAD, and leadership is not likership
I was at first the vice president, and then president, of our local teacher union in Red Clay—the second largest district in the state—when in 2007 the school district’s poor financial practices and operations were exposed by a $10.6 million dollar shortfall—a virtual bankruptcy—and a record 20 findings of wrong-doing reported by the Department of Education’s Financial Recovery Team (FRT). They were serious infractions, and it was a long and challenging two years before the district came out from under this cloud of criticism and disappointment. And got their financial feet back on the ground.
Who was in charge? Who was at the tiller? Who should have known better? Hell—who should have known, period? The board members at the time were surprised—shocked—even dumb-founded to find the district in these dire straits. Really? REALLY?
The community was just as upset and frustrated as we and our members were. The community was just as motivated for a change in leadership as we. So, district employees and leaders of education employee union locals worked together with community people to identify potential candidates who would represent change and a new and re-activated and energized Red Clay School Board.
We worked that first campaign strategically and relentlessly. We worked together to elect a thoughtful, well-informed, well-respected retired teacher for one seat, as well as a business manager for the sheet metal workers union for the second seat, a guy who has turned out to be an asset and valued Board member who helps the district track construction, renovation, and maintenance activities.
The following year, we elected a committed and tireless PTA mom and community leader along with a second PTA leader, a dad and parent of a special needs child who has been dedicated to all our students, but especially knowledgeable about issues regarding exceptional students and their families. He is also a guidance counselor in a neighboring vocational-technical district, and not a Red Clay employee.
[Unfortunately, the dad’s term is up and he has decided not to run for a second term.]
REAL PARENTS WITH YOUNG KIDS IN RED CLAY SCHOOLS—people to whom the future and success of all students in this school district really mattered. People with skin in the game. This was along way from the kinds of people who had filled board positions for years.
This year, RCEA is backing a highly motivated, smart, knowledgeable, award-winning social studies teacher from a neighboring school district—a genuinely nice guy with two little guys—an eight-month old and a two-year old. His kids will attend the neighborhood public school when they are old enough. It is really a good idea to have someone on a school board who knows schools from the inside out. Kenny Rivera would be the new one and only active educator on the Red Clay School Board. Kenny looks like the perfect candidate for his local school board.
There was a time when education unions paid little attention to school board elections, candidates, campaigns, or even to the boards themselves. That has all changed. For years, single unopposed candidates were able to walk right in and sit right down. Those times have certainly changed. Nothing like a little adversity to shake people up!
So, what’s it all about? What is going on in li’l ole Delaware school board elections?
More about this next time.