Interview with Stavan Corbett: What does it take to be an effective school board member?
“The biggest mistake a board member can make is not being fully engaged in what it is they’re deliberating over.”
— Stavan Corbett
Members of the Clark County School Board conducted interviews yesterday to replace longtime trustee Erin Cranor, who resigned her Henderson-based seat to attend law school this fall at Brigham Young University.
Yesterday, we told you what we think it takes to be an effective member of an education board. Today, we ask Stavan Corbett, a past chairman of the Nevada State Board of Education and a former member of the Clark County School Board, to discuss his thoughts on the topic. Corbett serves currently as the Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for the Clark County Public Education Foundation.
What are the keys to being a good school board member?
It’s about doing your due diligence. What are the needs of the community? Meet with the principals. Meet with the teachers. Speak with the parents. Even talk with the students that are in the space of the district that you’re going to represent, and really listen and hear what the needs are of the constituency that you’re going to serve. At the end of the day, you’re going to be there because of them or not be there. That’s vital.
The other piece: really be skilled in understanding policy. Really understand how policies are implemented, how they work, what is the thought process in terms of why they were designed. Those pieces right there will allow you to see how they are impacting the work. You’re doing all this needs assessment conversation just by pure relationship building and conversations with your constituency at all levels and really understanding, one, what are the policies in place and how are they being impacted and get feedback in terms of what are the opportunities so that there is this asset-based impact on the way the regulation and the policy are affecting the ones that do the work and the ones that are affected by the work.
Are there other pieces to being an effective school board member?
Relationships are also key. You want to be able to have professional discourse with your fellow board members, really get to know them at the capacity that you’re able to get to know them. Understand what’s important to them. Understand what their causes are and identify the commonalities that you have with them and learn how to work collectively toward not moving each other’s causes but how do those causes impact the work and how do those causes move forward the success of all the constituency bases from the administrative level to the teacher level, food-service level, the students, the families, etc.
What’s a common mistake to avoid?
One common mistake is not having all the information, not doing the due diligence to make sure that you’re in a position to ask questions that maybe nobody else has thought of. A lot of those inquiries are going to again come from engaging the constituency and really understanding what is the need out there. I think the biggest mistake a board member can make is not being fully engaged in what it is they’re deliberating over, presiding over, deciding over and really not asking thorough questions that can move it forward. So, whenever information is brought to you as a board member that’s the beginning of the conversation. I think the mistake is to look at what the information is coming to you and that your role is just to approve it. Your role is to actually ask questions and further the dialogue so that you can enhance the impact of what’s intended.