Experience shows that the most effective school boards are those with a clear, purposeful vision. A board's vision should focus on desired outcomes and demonstrate how the world can be different if they are willing to modify the way their system operates to achieve those outcomes. At its core, a board's vision is an expression of community values. It must reflect those values and beliefs that bind a community together and define its shared responsibility to students.
In addition to establishing an overall vision, boards should involve their community as they develop their strategic plan. Community engagement is an essential step to help generate public support for the board's initiative and for gathering constructive feedback that will help to inform the board's plan. Involving others in the discussion also demonstrates the board's responsiveness to the broader community, not just the school district. Additionally, it can help to identify potential barriers or opposition that might exist.
I live in Sumner County and like most boards my school board is trying to keep pace with technology while providing the best available resources so our students are prepared for today's digitally connected world. The Sumner County Board of Education does an excellent job in generating community dialogue around the broad issues that affect our school district and the community it serves. Because of the board's dialogue with community leaders, the Sumner County School District recently received an $8 million endowment from the estate of William Brown of Hendersonville.
Mr. Brown, a salesman and property owner, willed most of his estate to the school district and created the William and Martha Brown Technology Trust. The interest and dividends earned from this trust will be used annually to aid Sumner County Schools with technology. Mr. Brown also gave $500,000 to develop a park on land the district purchased a few years ago for a future elementary, middle and high school. Because the Sumner County Board of Education took the time to engage community members in face-to-face discussions about the important needs of the district, the Board had the opportunity to share with community members like Mr. Brown the goals and challenges of the district.
Schools play a major role in bringing individuals and community groups together to address crucial educational issues. Boards of education need to embrace public engagement because it is vital to the success of their district and achieving community support. The public will judge how well its involvement will be received by the board's community engagement policy and their day-to-day engagement with constituents.
Congratulations to the Sumner County Board of Education for being a catalyst for positive community discussion and demonstrating the art of community leadership!
Tammy Grissom is the executive director of the Tennessee School Boards Association