School board members have more in common with firefighters than you might think

Every June, the Idaho School Boards Association celebrates School Board Appreciation month in honor of the 800 locally elected, public servants, who serve on their local board for the betterment of all children, now and in the future. Sadly, over the past two years, school boards have been the focus of many local news stories and front-page articles, both nationally and here in Idaho. Whether it is contentious school board elections, heated board rooms, or decisions regarding local levies, school boards have been front and center.  

Many people don’t know this about me, but I wear several hats for the Melba community. When I’m not holding a gavel, I’m serving as a firefighter for the Nampa Fire Protection District.  And this is true for many Idaho school board members—we are dairy farmers, loggers, real estate agents, business owners, ranchers, teachers, grandparents, and parents. And while we wear multiple hats in our day jobs, we try and put on a collective hat when we do the hard work of leading our school districts.

As President of the Idaho School Boards Association, I feel compelled this year to peel back the curtain and share what school board members really do, who we are, why we serve, and share the lessons I have learned along the way as both a school board member and a firefighter.

Over the years my training as a firefighter has helped me become a better school leader and board member. For many of us, the last 24 months has felt like putting out one fire after another—but the best of school governance requires a coordinated effort to plan, prepare, and execute for a range of different scenarios. Like firefighters—school board members must respond in an assured, controlled, and well-rehearsed manner no matter the disaster.

School board members have more in common with firefighters than you might think.

Good board members:

Build high-performance and focused teams: In the fire service there is no room for individual heroics—we operate as a close-knit unit where everyone knows their responsibility and is expected to perform their role. The school board members that I know work closely alongside their Superintendent, school staff, teachers, and students to help shape the character and success of our schools. Great boards know and understand their role and responsibility and believe it is better to have a working team—than a single political agenda.

Make informed decisions: There may be smoke, but that does not mean the fire is flaming. A healthy board bases decisions on facts, not gut reactions. School board is a local governmental body that can take action only by a majority vote at a legally called public meeting. The individual board members major responsibility is to study issues facing the district, evaluate needs and resources, and, after fair consideration, vote in the best interest of all students at board meetings.

Are Adaptable: Over the last two years, school board members have displayed their tenacity and skilled crisis management. Good boards have a goal in mind but are flexible and quick to adapt under pressure. The Melba School District and many other boards throughout Idaho have worked under pressure in partnership with families, school staff, and other stakeholders to keep our students safe and healthy. We have reimagined the possibilities of learning and have prepared for different education scenarios along the way.

Are Lifelong Learners: Fire crews are committed to continuous training and professional development and growth. School board members are lifelong learners at heart. To be adept at solving problems, board members spend a substantial amount of time analyzing a situation from multiple perspectives. They participate in many hours of professional development to keep them informed and knowledgeable of current issues and the latest school leadership trends. School board meetings are just a small fraction of the time and energy that school board members devote to their schools and districts. School board members attend training, conferences, and on-going professional development.

Thank your School Board Members:

Someone once said, “Firefighters save hearts and homes.” The same can be said of school board members. They are everyday citizens whose decisions affect our children — what they learn, who will teach them, and what kinds of facilities house their classrooms. Our system of local school districts and charter schools and their governing boards epitomizes participatory government—when citizens are elected from their community to make educational decisions based on the needs and expectations of our communities. School board members exemplify local citizen control and decision-making in education. They volunteer hundreds of hours and an immeasurable amount of energy to assure our schools are providing the best education possible for the children of our community. I encourage you all to thank a school board member this month.

Jason Knopp

About Jason Knopp

Jason Kopp is the current ISBA President and Melba School Board member.

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