Many years ago, I began my journalism career working at a small daily newspaper in Petersburg, Va. It was a funny place. The managing editor had a second job with some softball association, and once in awhile we’d have a big headline – in font large enough to suggest something on the order of “Japanese Attack Pearl Harbor” – saying, “Softball Big in Tri-City Area,” or something like that.
I didn’t cover the Tri Cities (Petersburg, Hopewell, and Colonial Heights.) My beat was Prince George County, and that included my first encounter with a school board and the inimitable Dr. Rooks, the superintendent.
Dr. Rooks was a big guy, a friendly guy, very nice and very smart. He also had a loud voice and was just a little intimidating. He referred to the school board as “My Board” (which sounded more like “Ma Board” in his Southside Virginia accent) and to federal impact aid — about which the district was constantly fighting Congress because it wouldn’t provide sufficient money to educate tax-exempt students from nearby Fort Lee – as “My Aid.” (“Ma Aid”).
I’m telling you, if I was a Congressional aide on one end of a phone line with a booming Dr. Rooks on the other, I’d tell my boss, “Just get him the money.”
And the board members? Generally, it was: “Yes, Dr. Rooks.”
I’m telling you this story because July’s ASBJ is all about how to run an effective school board and be a more effective board member yourself. As I remember, Dr. Rooks ran a pretty good district with his commanding approach; but generally, according to the expert board trainers we quote, it’s better to have a more equal distribution of authority, a system in which the school board sets policies and the superintendent carries them out. But that, according to Jeff Cohn, a training specialist with the Illinois Association of School Boards, is more easily said than done.
“Out of every 10 school boards, three or four really get into things they shouldn’t,” he tells Senior Editor Del Stover for his story, “Operation Overload.”
Other articles talk about mentoring new administrators, the importance of making lists, and keys to good time management. Everything you need to be a board member or administrator — everything, that is, except a great accent, and a booming voice.
Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor