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Panel Tackles Superintendent, School Board Relations Amidst Pandemic

By Kaitlyn Francis |

A strong relationship between superintendents and school board members is needed more than ever because of the pandemic and equity issues facing public education. Through fear and uncertainty, communication is key in maintaining a unified team.

Daniel Domenech, executive director of AASA, led a discussion at AASA’s national conference on Thursday, Feb. 18, on school board and superintendent relations with three other panelists — Anna Maria Chavez, executive director of NSBA; Kristi Wilson, president of AASA; and Charlie Wilson, president of NSBA.

The session addresses an evergreen subject whenever the national organizations serving school boards and superintendents stage their annual conferences.

Kristi Wilson, who serves as superintendent of the Buckeye Elementary School District in Buckeye, Ariz.,suggested grace and gratitude as important qualities when superintendents and their board members tackle a pressing issue from differing perspectives.  She called for opportunities to reflect and remind each other of the importance of attaining progress over perfection.

Charlie Wilson, who serves on the school board in Worthington, Ohio, said the pandemic has impacted the way superintendents and school board members relate to each other. They need to be adaptable and innovative to problem solve. While their leadership roles are connected, they must stay in their own lanes while maintaining strong collaboration and mutual trust, he said.

Equity is the most important and difficult issue facing public education today, Charlie Wilson said. School board members must address the needs of the students by preventing bias based on race, iniitating anti-racist work in the schools and taking an anti-racist stance in their personal lives.

NSBA established the Dismantling Institutional Racism in Education program last June in response to the national uproar over George Floyd’s death and the widespread Black Lives Matter protests. NSBA knew this was the moment to launch equity and assist school board associations in addressing racial inequities to find the root causes and barriers to equitable education outcomes for all children, Charlie Wilson said.

Diversity and inclusion is essential in leadership positions to ensure critical decisions on equity issues are decided by people who represent the affected populations, said Chavez, who joined NSBA as executive director in 2020. While women and men serve almost equally in school board positions, 78 percent of school board members across the United States are white, she said. School boards should have a diverse slate of candidates as the tone of the school board should reflect the culture of the community that the board oversees.

There is pressure on superintendents and their boards to deal with the social and emotional well-being of students and staff a year into the pandemic, said Kristi Wilson, whose term as AASA president runs until June 30. Opening schools to students while maintaining safe conditions, adapting teaching operations and dealing with grief over pandemic losses have placed new stresses on school system leaders.

“For me, technology issues that come up daily for teachers, students, administrators and even my lack of ability to connect today shows how difficult it has been and the underfunding for technology across the country,” said Chavez, as she spoke through technical difficulties throughout the live conference session.

She said boards and superintendents ought to use this pandemic as an opportunity to transform the ecosystem to meet the children’s needs through better technology infrastructure and an environment of greater sensitivity and empathy.

(Kaitlyn Francis is a senior in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at University of Maryland, College Park, and an intern with AASA’s Conference Daily Online.)

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