Board of Education members serve a vital role in community

“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” -Thomas Jefferson

It has been understood since the days of our founding as a nation that education is the key to personal fulfillment and the health and growth of our communities, small and large. Election to a local Board of Education is both a good way to enter public service and to promote excellence in public education.

There will be four Nashua Board of Education positions on the ballot for the Municipal General Elections of Nov. 7. Those seats are currently held by George Farrington, David Murotake, Dorothy Oden and Sandra Ziehm. Board members are elected for four-year terms. The other five seats will be on the ballot in the next regular municipal election.

The over-arching priority of the Board of Education is to continuously improve student achievement. To do this, the Board creates and adopts policies, creates a strategic plan, hires a superintendent and provides supervision and accountability as he/she implements these policies and plans. The Board also is responsible for policy review and development, financial oversight, contract negotiations, grievance and appeal hearings, budgets and construction projects. Board members also must be familiar with the structure of state and local governments as they relate to the school district, legalities such as open meeting laws and finances and budgets – local, state and federal. There are two regular Board meetings most months (one each in July, August and December) and all members serve on one or more standing subcommittee (for example, curriculum, policy and human relations) which usually meet once a month.

The role of the Board of Education can be crucial to the success of a district’s students. The Nashua Board of Education orientation packet includes research-based guidelines for school boards, referred to as “the eight characteristics of effective school boards.” The National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education found that school boards in high-achieving districts exhibit habits and characteristics that are markedly different from boards in low-achieving districts. Examples of these characteristics include the following:

Boards in high-achieving districts are more likely to engage in goal setting and monitoring their progress.

They are increasingly data savvy – identifying student needs and justifying decisions based on data.

Board members possess detailed knowledge of their district, including initiatives to jump-start success.

Board members have crafted a working relationship with superintendents, teachers and administrators based on mutual respect, collegiality and a joint commitment to student success.

This spirit of collaboration is a theme repeated throughout both local and state literature about creating a high-performing Board. Highly effective Boards develop shared beliefs and values about what students can achieve. They create a collaborative relationship with staff and the public, and they see themselves as part of a team focused on setting and achieving educational goals. They analyze and use data, rather than individual preferences or priorities, to inform and guide decisions.

Although the duties and responsibilities placed on the school board can seem daunting at first, the work can be very rewarding. Current and former school board members say they like knowing the decisions they make as representatives of the community contribute to opening opportunities for the students they serve. Board members who have gone through the public school system and who have children or grandchildren who benefit from public education are grateful for the opportunities it has afforded them and are anxious to make sure today’s children are given the same advantages and more. It also is rewarding to work with other board members and administrators, each of whom has his or her own set of skills and experiences to offer, to solve problems together and move the district forward. Board members also receive a stipend of $4,000 annually to compensate them for their time and expertise.

Anyone who is interested in becoming a candidate in the next municipal election can find complete guidelines for the process at www.nashua.gov or the City Clerk’s office. The filing period for candidates in the Nov. 7 Municipal General Election started on Aug. 29 in the Office of the City Clerk, City Hall, Room 102. The filing period will close at 5 p.m. on Sept. 8. All candidates must submit the required 50 completed nomination petitions and acceptance petition during this time. Petitions are now available at the City Clerk’s office and online.

The League of Women Voters and the Nashua Public Library will host a forum for Board of Education candidates at the library on Oct. 26.

The League of Women Voters is a non-partisan organization dedicated to voter education and advocacy.