On January 7, the new school board, consisting of four incumbents and five newly-elected members, will be sworn in. The first vote that the board will cast is to select its leadership—chair and vice-chair. The current chair, Karen Graf, has served since she was first elected to the board three years ago. Clearly, it is the board’s prerogative to choose its own chair and vice-chair. However, I believe that this would be an opportune time for it to rotate that position to another board member.
Unlike the mayor, the school board chair is not elected separately by Alexandria voters and has no additional authority. As it happens, there is a long tradition of school board chairs serving for three years or fewer. Since 1970, more than two decades before Alexandria switched from an appointed to an elected school board, only one individual has served as school board chair for more than three years.
Among the new and incumbent board members are several who have extensive nonprofit board experience and the skill to moderate meetings efficiently, to serve as an effective spokeperson for the board and to collaborate productively with the mayor and city council members. The chair plays a leading role in setting meeting agendas, and the board could benefit from some diversity in viewpoint in how agendas are set. Previous experience on the board is not required. Three years ago, the chair and vice-chair were both newly-elected board members when they were first chosen for their leadership roles.
Some board members are put off by the time commitment that they believe the position requires. It does not need to be a full-time job—in fact, it shouldn’t be a full-time job. Previous school board chairs have held the position while also holding full- or part-time jobs. As outgoing school board member Marc Williams has observed, “If the chair is spending too much time in that role, there is a danger that the board will micromanage the school division. The role of the board is oversight, not implementation.” Our city is paying our professional school administrators, not our school board, to operate our schools day-to-day.
If the current chair were to step aside from seeking a fourth term, that would show a recognition on her part that other members of the board are also well-qualified to serve. The school board, and our community, benefit from the new perspectives of rotating leadership. The new school board should organize itself to provide that change.
In the News
Port City Notebook was named Fact Check of the Week by The Fact-Checking Project of the American Press Institute, an educational organization affiliated with the Newspaper Association of America.
Managing Teen Anxiety will be the topic of a workshop presented by the ACPS Parent Resource Center on Wednesday, January 27. It will be held from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the Media Center of the T.C. Williams Minnie Howard campus. The workshop will be led by ACPS parent Amy Fortney Parks, Executive Director of Clinical and Assessment Services for WISE Mind Solutions.
To register, contact Janet Reese, Parent Support Specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Courtney Davis, Parent Resource Center Coordinator, at email@example.com, or call 703 824 0129. Registration closes on January 20.
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