Is Elected Office
For You?

Is running for a school committee for you? In towns and cities across America, it's local election season. Actually, the whole year is local election season, really. No matter when your local elections happen, there likely are people running for a seat on the local school committee.
Have you considered running for office?

It's important that parents get involved in the education of their children. Next time there's an opening for a seat on your local school committee, maybe one of the candidates could be — should be — you. Moms have a lot to offer in this area.

Is elected office
right for you?

In every city and town across America, the job of school committee member is absolutely essential — and totally thankless. The education of our children in public schools is highly personal in addition to being highly public. Everyone, but everyone, is a stakeholder it seems.

As parents, of course we have opinions of how our children should be taught certain things. We are their best advocates. Sometimes, as we get involved in volunteering in schools and learn about other issues, we can be good advocates of more than just our kids — we can be good advocates for all the kids. Sometimes leading a PTA committee just isn't enough!

One way to do this is to run for school committee. Should you? Well, maybe.

What does a school committee do, anyway?

School committee charters vary by town. At the most basic level, school committees work on school budgets, are a liaison between the public and the school administration, they hire certain administrators, and they set school policy. Some issues that come up fall into the gray areas on the edges, and while the school committee may not have a role in a particular issue, they may still be talking about it and hopefully trying to affect a positive outcome. They are neither a mouthpiece for the administration, nor intentionally adversarial. They should not be intentionally adversarial toward the public either. It's a delicate line they work.

Do you have the desire?

You really have to want to be on the school committee to run. There are requirements to fulfill to even get on the ballot, there's running, and there's serving, all of which take time and energy, and you may meet a lot of cynical negative people along the way. You really have to want it. If you are interested, contact your local elections board for information on requirements and deadlines.

Do you have the diplomacy?

There will be constituents for whom you can do no wrong, constituents for whom you can do no right, but most will fall somewhere in between. You need to be able to interact with each group respectfully, professionally and positively. It can be hard. School issues are highly personal to every parent, and sometimes parents will react strongly. Some may even cross an appropriateness line. You must be able to listen to and offer respect to even the most angry and seemingly irrational constituent.

Do you have an open mind?

The issues presented to you within the school committee may be totally unexpected. You will need to research an issue quite a bit to come to understanding. Likewise, there may be an issue about which you have definite beliefs. Even then you must research and try to understand so as to be able to make the best informed decision. Coming into the position with a hard and fast mindset does service to no one, even if you keep your initial point-of-view in the end.

Do you have the time?

School committees require time. Lots of time, and the vast majority of the time is not in the regularly scheduled meetings. You will need to research issues, talk with administrators, faculty, parents, kids and other town leaders. There may be training in your state for new school committee members, as well as opportunities to get involved on the state level — all of which take time.

Do you have the tenacity

People are going to get angry with you. They will. Every parent thinks they know what's best — and they do — for their kids. As a school committee member you need to be able to look at and make decisions on a much larger scale, for many, many kids. This isn't going to go over well with some people. They will get nasty. And you must be able to stand by your actions every single day.

If you have the energy and enthusiasm to run for the school committee after reading this, then you should seriously consider increasing your level of public service to the schools. You may be just what they're looking for.

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Comments

Comments on "Should you run for school committee?"

Lisa October 17, 2012 | 2:09 PM

Thanks for this informative article about what a school committee position entails. For moms who are taking time off from to work to raise their kids this could be a good thing to have on a resume for when they eventually go back to work. I agree with Katie, however, that women need to make sure it is something they have the time for and that they want to do. The job requires balancing the personal with the public and being flexible and hearing many different points of view. None of these things are easy.

Katie October 17, 2012 | 1:46 PM

This was a really great read. It's important to make sure you have the desire and the time for sure. Make sure it's something that you want to commit to and that you're passionate about.

Sean Gresh April 06, 2010 | 5:25 PM

Jen, I enjoyed your column on running for school committee. I'm running for a seat on the Ipswich School Committee and while relatively new to town, I'm looking forward to the race -- May 25th....3 candidates for two seats. I'm in the listening phase of the campaign -- listening, of course, should be a key requirement for serving as well. It's amazing how much I'm learning, even in short conversations with parents and students, not to mention administrators and teachers and others whom I have met. Best wishes for continued success with your blog. Cheers! Sean Gresh

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