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Portland, Ore. – Michael Juch, assistant superintendent of operations at the Howard-Suamico School District in Wisconsin, said it’s important for district leaders to make sure board members are educated to “look and care” as they consider the district’s future.
With that vision in mind, Juch shared on Wednesday how he developed an important relationship with the district’s board members. Juch spoke during a session at the School Business Executives International Annual Conference and Expo in Portland, Oregon.
Because board members are often elected officials, political biases can arise. As such, it can be difficult for some members to trust school officials at first, Juech said.
He said there are board members who often disagree with the state governor in Juch district. When dealing with such obstacles to building trust, it’s important to use facts to bring board members to a comfort level.
“Let’s get rid of ideology, let’s talk about these things,” Juch said.
Here are three ways school business leaders can build meaningful relationships with their board members.
Help them understand the school’s finances
School board members want to have a strong understanding of school finance, but they often lack the knowledge.
To better understand the system, district officials can provide monthly expense reports, schedule meetings with the school finance or business department and hold onboarding meetings for new school board members, Juch said.
It is important to prepare agendas for these meetings with the finance department and ensure that the time is used to build relationships, he said. When these meetings are arranged, supervisors should be informed of the proceedings if they are not present.
During onboarding, Juch said, board members and school business leaders like to ask each other about their expectations. He said this orientation helps the parties get to know each other better in an informal way.
Show how their decisions affect students
It’s important to find small, casual ways to show board members how their decisions affect students, he said.
For example, the Jutch district has a $98 million referendum project that the school board is happy to participate in. So he brought some board members to the construction site.
“It built a relationship. We got to talk about it — ‘Hey, this is what you helped do,'” Juch said.
The opportunity gave board members and school business leaders an opportunity to reflect on the “importance and power” of how their work together helped implement the referendum project, he said.
Visit other districts with board members
The Howard-Suamico school board traveled with district leaders to the Denver school system to learn about ongoing innovations there, Juch said. And board members were raring to go.
The purpose of the trip was to inspire board members to think about their district’s potential and future, he said.
“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?’
But that change in conversation can’t happen unless the foundation is laid to build those relationships, he said.
“If they’re informed and educated, they can make a real difference that ultimately affects all of us — and most importantly, affects our students,” Juch said.