By Brad Hughes
KSBA Director of Member Support/Communications Services
Quick quiz: What song from the Tony-winning Broadway musical and Oscar-winning motion picture, The Music Man, has leadership lessons for board members and superintendents? (Hint: It’s not “Shipoopi.”)
Answer: “76 Trombones.” The song clearly puts the title character, Professor Harold Hill, out front. However, that role would be meaningless without the following of “a hundred and ten cornets” and assorted other musicians in the show-ending parade.
When it comes to educating a community about what’s going on within its public school system, the superintendent has the role of the “Music Man.” And every school board member is a key player in the district’s band, orchestra or chorus. Each has both solo and ensemble performances that are vital to reaching staff, parents and other taxpaying citizens about the district’s goals and objectives.
During a couple of workshops at this year’s KSBA Annual Conference, participants posed questions tied to this subject.
One question was pretty easy: “Is it OK for a board member to retweet (on Twitter) a district announcement that school has been called off for bad weather?”
Forwarding district-produced information to constituents should be a regular function of board members. And it shouldn’t be limited to social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.
Over time, some board members have created email distribution lists of people keenly interested in a school or in districtwide issues. It’s almost a certainty that redistributing district announcements would reach people in your more personal audience bases who might have been missed by the central office communications efforts.
Others board members are themselves members of civic groups like the Rotary, Lions, Civitan and BPW. Some of these organizations have member newsletters, and most newsletter editors are in search of content. The same option applies to the program chairmen who have to fill an organization’s speaker slot at the monthly meeting. They can be easy pitch recipients for board members once a year.
Another question was a bit more complex: “Should board members be putting out their own ‘take’ on an issue when that differs from a recommendation by the superintendent?”
Giving the public all sides of a pending board decision is smart. Superintendents frequently spell out the pros and cons when making their cases for a recommended board action. Board members seeking public input must be conduits to constituents – and that should mean sharing all the factors, not just those that favor or oppose one point of view.
However, attacking an administration proposal seldom serves children in the classroom. A board member stating his or her reasons for favoring one direction is doing the job he or she was elected to. Not all votes will be 5-0 on a typical Kentucky school board. The public deserves an exploration of differences, but not to the point that criticisms undermine the credibility of fellow board members or the superintendent.
Bottom line? Creating an engaged community requires a team – or, if you will, a band – to spread the word. The superintendent, aka the band director, isn’t always going to get perfect pitch from the trumpet section, but it often takes a good brass corps to really sell the tune to the audience.
The Last Word
Another test for your imagination.
Michael Jordan may be the greatest player in the history of the National Basketball Association, but without the other Chicago Bulls players, he wouldn’t have six NBA championship rings.
Sir Paul McCartney has had an incredible career as a solo artist, but does anyone really think he would be so revered if he hadn’t started as a member of the Beatles?
One staple in the speeches by Kentucky’s outstanding superintendents and school board members at the KSBA conference is the reference to the importance of the other members of the district leadership team. They don’t differentiate between director or a player. They share a common theme of working together to produce a symphony of support for teachers and students in the classroom.
And that’s a message worth getting out.
Written for the KSBA Kentucky School Advocate, April 2015. Published with permission.