Principal Helpline: When a School Board Member Drops By

Knock, knock, who’s there?

What do you do when a school board member stops by

Q.

“I’m the principal of a large elementary school in our suburban school district. Lately one of thee member of our local school board has been dropping in about once a week ‘just to say Hello.’ In conversation, He is openly critical of our superintendent and often asks me what I think of various district policies. This puts me in a very uncomfortable situation. How should I handle this?”

A.

Let me cut to the chase: contact your direct supervisor immediately and tell him or her about your predicament. This is a problem that needs to be addressed through the superintendent’s office and is replete with red flags.

This is a situation that may be more common than principals realize. Here’s my experience. A recently retired school board member  found herself with lots of time on her hands, so she began making the rounds of schools in the district to chat with principals over a cup of coffee.  At first most of us welcomed the visit; some of us even walked around the school with her to show her kids’ work displayed in the halls (yes, I did that).

But the visits soon became more frequent. One problem was that I just didn’t have time to chat with her for an hour when I had lots of other things to do. But my bigger concern was that she began to voice her opinions about some of my colleagues and tried to solicit my views. This was a huge red flag, and believe me, the last thing I was going to do was say anything about a colleague. Plus, I began to worry that she might use my name even if I said nothing (another red flag) since after all, there were only the two of us chatting in my office.

Finally I called the assistant superintendent and told him what was happening. He assured me that the board member’s behavior was inappropriate and he would take care of it—and he did. He also said he would share my concerns with the superintendent. I don’t know what action either of them took, but the visits stopped.

Later the assistant superintendent reminded me that board members actually have no specific power as individuals, but only when they vote as a member of the full board. I didn’t have to be a captive audience. So if you run into a board member at school, in the parking lot, on the sidelines at a soccer game, or at a neighborhood party, be friendly and respectful. But if the conversation turns to professional issues, you may politely excuse yourself.

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Posted by Suzanne Tingley

Suzanne Tingley has been a middle/high school teacher, department chair, principal, and superintendent. She taught graduate classes in education administration for the State University of New York. She developed a series of education videos and has been a Scholastic Administrator blogger.

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