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The importance of great school boards

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POSTED: April 5, 2008 5:00 a.m.
School boards don't usually grab the good headlines.
Board of education elections are generally relegated to the back pages of newspapers and Web sites and are rarely covered by television or radio. School board meetings usually fly below the public radar unless there is a particular issue that has riled up parents or teachers.
March 17-21 is School Board Appreciation Week in Georgia and now, more than ever, we should say "thank you" to these faithful servants.
The recent troubles in Clayton County should demonstrate how important school boards really are. The Southern Association of Schools and Colleges has said it will strip Clayton County schools of its accreditation mainly because of the actions of its school board. The impact could be catastrophic. Hard-working students could lose the opportunity to access the HOPE scholarship and may not be able to get into the colleges of their choice. Property values could plummet and business and industry could bypass Clayton, eroding the county's economic stability.
But it's important to note that this is the exception, not the rule.
Most of Georgia's 181 school districts are run by excellent boards that understand their role and empower the system's staff and students. These board members dedicate an inordinate number of hours to their office, usually for little or no money. They field questions at night, on weekends and in the grocery store from concerned parents and teachers and, often, have to make gut-wrenching decisions about spending, staffing and discipline.
During School Board Appreciation Week, let's dedicate ourselves to helping our school boards do their jobs well. Here are just a few ideas:
Get involved: Follow the work of your local school board and attend meetings regularly, not just when you have a problem. Stay in touch with your board members by providing ongoing feedback about issues and proposals. And be sure to send them a note when you have something positive to say.
Choose carefully: At election time, make sure you know who is running and ask them questions important to you. Attend school board debates and candidate forums. Don't be afraid to pick up the phone and, respectfully, ask a follow-up question or offer an opinion.
Run for office: Not everyone has the energy or the ability to run for school board, but if you do, I'd encourage you to think about it. You don't have to be a teacher or politician, but you do have to be willing to put students first and embrace the mission and goals of public education.

Cox is state superintendent of schools in Georgia.
 

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