For three years and one month I have been the education reporter for The McDuffie Mirror. The very first board of education meeting I attended in McDuffie County was quite a show as the board had just implemented a new policy that angered many parents. The board room that evening was completely packed with people wanting to give a piece of their minds, which they did. I was quite impressed that night with the school board and superintendent. They listened calmly to each rant, and then did not waiver from what they knew was in the best interest of students.
I was reminded of that incident last week when I attended the BOE's informative meeting for people considering candidacy with the board. Four seats are open for election this year. The good news is there's a lot of interest in those seats. (There were 15 attendees at the meeting.)
Because I estimate that I have sat in at least 185 hours of board of education meetings, I thought I could add my perspective of good school board member qualities:
A forgiving rear end. When you first walk into the board room, the chairs look quite comfortable. But after a four-hour meeting, your backside will experience numbness alternating with pain.
A long attention span. Although they are given a time limit, some "presenters" are quite long winded. Even if they're not, be prepared to hear from several in a row. Several can range from 2 to 20. You have to smile at each one. After all, you're an elected official. And absolutely no yawning aloud.
Eyes to read the fine print, even when it's bold. I have great respect for our school officials, and from all experiences, I trust them completely. But occasionally a bizarre detail can pass right under your nose before your eyes have had a chance to focus.
A warm heart, stiff spine and thick skin. All the school system employees need to feel they're appreciated. All the students need to feel they're important. And all the parents need to feel they're heard. If one does not get this feeling at the appropriate moment, you will hear about it. And for some reason, they never come alone. They usually bring a reporter or two digging for a story.
Tough love. Your decisions have to be based on what's best for the students. Period. It doesn't matter who you like, who your governor is, or what "somebody" has told you. Who/what/wherever your loyalty was before, it's now the students.
An open mind. When you learn what happens behind the scenes, be prepared to think differently. Be prepared for your heart to soften, too. You will care passionately about the education system like you never have before.