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PORTLAND, OR — For Michael Juech, Assistant Superintendent of Operations for the Howard-Suamico School District in Wisconsin, it is important for district leaders to ensure board members are educated to “look up” as they look to the district’s future.
With that vision in mind, Juech shared on Wednesday how he has forged beneficial relationships with board members in his region. Juech speaks at the International Schools Business Officials Association annual conference and exposition in Portland, Oregon.
Since board members are often elected officials, political ideology may arise. As a result, some members also had difficulty trusting school officials at first, Juech said.
Juech district board members often disagree with the state’s governor, he said. When dealing with these barriers to building trust, it is important to make board members comfortable by using facts.
“Let’s get the ideology out, let’s talk about these things,” Juech said.
Here are three ways Juech recommends that school business officers develop meaningful relationships with board members.
Help them understand school finances
Board members want to have a firm grasp on school finances, but they often lack expertise, he said.
To help them better understand the system, district officials can provide monthly expense reports, schedule meetings with school finance or business departments, and hold induction meetings for new school board members, Juech said.
It’s important to set an agenda for these meetings with finance and make sure that time is devoted to building relationships, he said. When these meetings are scheduled, supervisors should also be notified of the procedure if they are not present.
During the onboarding process, Juech said, he likes to ask board members and school business officials what they expect from each other. This positioning helps the two sides get to know each other better in a more informal way, he said.
Show how their decisions affect students
It’s helpful to find casual little ways to show board members how their decisions affect students, he said.
For example, the Juech School District has a $98 million referendum project, and the school board is excited to be a part of it, he said. So he took some board members to the site.
“It builds a relationship. We have to talk about it — ‘Hey, this is what you helped do,'” Juech said.
He said the opportunity gave board members and school business leaders a chance to reflect on the “importance and power” of how their collaboration helped make the referendum project possible.
Visit other regions with board members
The Howard-Suamico School Board also traveled with district leaders to the Denver school system to learn about the innovations that are taking place there, Juech said. Board members are excited to go.
He said the purpose of the trip was to inspire board members to think about the potential and future of their region.
“It refocused their work,” Juech said. “We went from talking about masks and talking about virtual learning to talking about ‘what does the future of education look like?'”
However, such a shift in the conversation is unlikely to happen unless the foundations for those relationships have been laid, he said.
“If they’re informed and educated, they can make a real change that ultimately affects us all — and more importantly, it affects our students,” Juech said.