A 1960 graduate of Albemarle High School, Sherman Shifflett, sent the below message to me. Sherman serves on the Louisa County School Board and is a member of the Albemarle High School Alumni Association. I did not realize February is School Board Member Appreciation Month in Virginia. The article is correct, we do not recognize and thank enough, those individuals that serve. For the most part, it is a thankless position that makes so many important decisions and is an essential part of our educational system. I encourage you to put children first and politics last. I take this opportunity to say thank you for serving Albemarle county as a school board member.
AHS Alumni Association
Thank Your School Board Members
When things get tough in a democracy, it’s easy to blame decision-makers. This reality makes one of our most valuable professional outlets – public service – an often thankless endeavor. As public servants on the hyper local level, school board members occupy a crucial role in our democracy. Frequently, they receive less than glowing coverage in the popular press, if they receive any at all. Too often, we ignore the value inherent in their existence, and we forget to acknowledge their efforts that are often vital in building a strong foundation for public schools in communities across the country. School board members form the largest democratic body in the United States and February 1, 2013, marks the beginning of Virginia’s “School Board Appreciation Month,” an opportunity for citizens from across the Commonwealth to celebrate their local school board members. Electing a good board may be the responsibility of the public, but the day-to-day responsibilities of school governance fall on the shoulders of those who are elected to serve.
As a country, we all celebrate the concept of local democratic representation and control. When it comes to ensuring high quality in our nation’s public schools, we depend on the intelligence, capacity and hard work of our local school board members – our democratically elected citizens. These individuals are responsible for major decisions affecting the lives of students across Virginia – and other states – from school lunches and budgeting to developing a shared vision for schools and the district. They hire the superintendent, manage labor contracts, and work to ensure students have a safe and healthy learning environment. When localities across the state boast vibrant, engaging and efficiently run institutions of learning, it is reason to sit up and take note. It is also a reason to celebrate.
There are almost 850 school board members across the Commonwealth, from Fairfax and Arlington to Norfolk, Richmond, Roanoke and Charlottesville who are working to prepare students for the 21st century, and to be college and career ready, to not just get by, but to thrive in the future full of uncertainty. This year’s theme “School Boards Speak Out for Public Education,” is intended to highlight the efforts of school board members to advocate for public education. This acknowledgment comes at a time when districts and schools are struggling to provide even more for their students with less than adequate resources. We celebrate their efforts to build partnerships with stakeholders in their communities, set the direction for public schools to ensure all students receive a high-quality education, and contribute to the excellence of the system as a whole.
In this month of February, we have an opportunity to celebrate all that school board members represent and do, as symbols of our local democracy and as tireless public servants. With so many boards in any given diverse state, some will shine above all others, while a handful will be in need of change and improvements. However, this month, take time to acknowledge your local school board representatives, with a phone call, email, letter, or through social media. Moving forward, we can show support of their work through increased participation, we can engage as citizens and offer our feedback and ideas, and we can continue to push for policies and outcomes that bolster our public schools. Sometime this month, consider taking a moment to raise a glass to public servants and toast democracy.
Tarsi Dunlop lives in Arlington, Virginia and serves as the Program and Operations Manager at the Learning First Alliance. As a Virginia resident, she would like to personally thank all school board members that work tirelessly to ensure that children in the Commonwealth have access to high-quality schools and equal opportunities.